In November 2015, Charlie Sheen, once the highest paid television actor in Hollywood, admitted on The Today Show with Matt Lauer that he is living with HIV. After Magic Johnson, Charlie is the second high-profile celebrity to come forward with an HIV diagnosis since the disease’s emergence as a major epidemic in the 1980s. Charlie’s confession throws into light questions about the moral and legal obligations one has to disclose their sexual health status to a current or potential partner.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be considerably uncomfortable, costly to treat, and can increase the risk of developing cancer or infertility. While many of these infections are curable, they can elevate the chances of acquiring non-curable STDs, like HIV/AIDS, HPV and genital herpes.
Some STDs you can contract include:
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Hepatitis B
- Genital herpes
- Lymphopatria venereum
- Granuloma ingunale
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
STDs and the Law
In the state of California, a person who has a STD and knows about it, or should have known about it, has a duty to disclose it to his or her partner before they have sex. After the disclosure, the infected person must have consent to proceed with the sexual act.
The California code concerning STD regulations is extensive. It covers just about every legal area, from family law to education. The Health and Safety Code 120600 specifically states, “Any person who refuses to provide information, or who knowingly exposes a sex partner with an STD is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
In the eyes of the law, endangering another person by not disclosing an STD can be constituted as:
- Negligence or intentional infliction of emotional stress
- Battery when disease is knowingly transmitted
- Fraud when the defendant tried to hide their STD status
Essentially, if another person has exposed you to an STD, you have legal rights to sue that person under civil law. If that individual is found liable of spreading an STD, that person can be forced to pay damages to the victim. These damages may include the cost of medical treatment, as well as emotional pain and suffering.
If an incurable STD is not disclosed to a sexual partner, the offender may face criminal charges. Although they are separate proceedings, a criminal conviction can strengthen a civil case.
Disclosing Another Person’s Health Status
The Charlie Sheen story also touches upon another aspect of privacy and disclosing health status. Charlie claims that he was being extorted – or blackmailed – by people who knew he was HIV positive. This is illegal. Disclosing someone else’s sexual health status can be considered an invasion of privacy and public disclosure of private facts.
It is important to note that certain types of disclosure are required by the law. For example, health care providers are required to inform an infected person’s current and past partners of their possible exposure to an STD. What is unlawful is trying to publicly humiliate someone who is infected with a disease, or of course, trying to get money out of them by threatening to reveal their illness.
Just like exposing someone to an STD, disclosing someone’s STD status can carry criminal charges, and the victim can sue for damages.
Any time we engage in sexual activity with a new partner, we take a risk. Under favorable circumstances, we agree to that risk based on feelings of passion, honesty and trust. When that trust is violated by something as devastating as contracting an STD from a dishonest partner, you absolutely have the right to defend your quality of life by pursuing legal action.
On the other hand, people who courageously admit to their partners they are STD carriers don’t deserve to be publically embarrassed or harassed because of it.
If you have been victimized by a partner who did not disclose their STD status, or if someone is threatening to reveal your private illness, it is good idea to contact an experienced attorney to counsel you through these difficult circumstances.