New York Gov. Spitzer, Lawmakers Lobbying for Bill To Require HIV Testing for Indicted Rape Suspects
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) and some state lawmakers are lobbying for a measure that would require suspects indicted for rape to be tested for HIV, the New York Times reports. The state's current law requires HIV tests after conviction of rape. The measure has been a source of "contentious debate," and it remains unclear whether leadership in the state Assembly will allow it to reach the floor for a vote, the Times reports. According to the Times, the debate and a "lengthy private" meeting this week among Democratic lawmakers "reflects conflicting concerns about the health of rape victims and about the civil liberties of suspects who have not yet been tried" for rape or sexual assault.
Supporters of the measure, which was submitted by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, say that the measure would help rape survivors have access to all information about the virus before they decide whether to take antiretroviral drugs for post-exposure prophylaxis. However, some opponents say the bill might give rape survivors a "false sense of security" if suspects test negative, adding that survivors might stop taking antiretrovirals prematurely, the Times reports. Assembly member Joseph Lentol (D) opposes the bill and chairs the Codes Committee, which must clear the measure. He said that although an HIV test for an indicted rape suspect might "come back negative, ... it might be the wrong guy, or he might be in a window period where he hasn't tested positive." He added, "I know that to some people, especially some women, it could be viewed as a paternalistic kind of thing, that she should have all the information at her disposal." However, Lentol said that he views withholding potentially misleading information from survivors as "protecting a person's health, no matter who they are." Assembly member Keith Wright (D) and other opponents of the measure say that lawmakers run a "very slippery slope if" the state starts "testing people just by virtue of indictment."
Spitzer spokesperson Paul Larrabee said, "The governor believes that a victim of a rape or a sexual assault needs to know as soon as possible the HIV status of their attacker," adding, "This information is critical to both the physical and emotional well-being of the victim." Assembly member and chief sponsor of the bill Nettie Mayersohn (D) said the decision to be tested for HIV "should be made by the woman" who was sexually assaulted and "not by legislators." Mayersohn said she has added a provision to ensure that rape survivors have access to HIV counseling and understand "that there is a small chance" that the rape suspect might be HIV-positive, even if the test is negative.
According to the Times, the Assembly measure has "more than enough votes to pass" based on the "voluminous list of co-sponsors." In addition, the measure's "prospects appear to be more favorable than in previous years," the Times reports. An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate, where similar measures have had a "history of support," according to the Times (Hakim, New York Times, 5/25).