MASON CITY — Nick Rhoades served time in prison, including six weeks in solitary confinement, lost many of his privacy rights and must register as a sex offender for life.
His crime: not disclosing to a partner with whom he was intimate that he was HIV-positive.
“Does the punishment fit the harm done?” Rhoades, asked Monday at a community forum sponsored by PFLAG, North East Iowa Chapter in Mason City.
The state of Iowa currently has one of the strictest HIV laws in the nation, making the lack of disclosure a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a lifetime of sex offender status.
The statute makes no exception for lack of transmission of the HIV virus, nor does it take into account the fact that a person infected with HIV is taking the prescribed medication and has very little or no chance of passing it on.
Gay rights groups and others, including the Iowa Department of Public Health, are calling for modernization of the 1998 statute to focus penalties only on intentional or documented transmission of the HIV virus.
They say Iowa’s law is having the unintended effect of discouraging individuals from undergoing HIV testing and from obtaining access to medications that could save their lives and the lives of everyone with whom they may have intimate contact.
Iowa, which has a relatively low HIV incidence rate, ranks second in the nation in prosecutions for nondisclosure.
Rhoades, who was convicted of non-disclosure in 2008, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Released from prison after four months with a reconsideration hearing, he is appealing his conviction to the Iowa Supreme Court.
He did not transmit HIV because he has been taking the necessary medications and undergone testing for it since he was diagnosed in 1998.
“HIV is not a crime,” he said. “I could have committed vehicular homicide and gotten a lighter sentence.”
Tami Haught of Nashua lost her husband to AIDS and was later diagnosed with HIV herself.
She is asking members of the public to sign a petition asking for modernization of the HIV criminalization law so legislators will know of their concerns.
“They say they need to hear from their constituents that it’s important.”