Salt Lake Tribune Examines Enforcement of Utah Law Requiring Mandatory HIV Tests for Convicted Sex Workers, Solicitors
A review of Utah court records and procedures has found inconsistencies in the enforcement of a state law that requires convicted commercial sex workers and solicitors of commercial sex to be tested for HIV, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The state is one of six in the U.S. in which penalties for the two offenses increase if the convicted person previously tested positive for HIV, according to a 2002 CDC-funded study.
According to the Tribune, court dockets and case files indicate that in almost 40% of solicitation and commercial sex work convictions processed in state courts in 2006 and 2007, there is no record of HIV tests being ordered, read by a judge or filed. Lynn Beltran, program manager for HIV and sexually transmitted infections at the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, said, "Last month, we ended up doing about 20 [HIV tests], and I'm quite sure there are way more at times." She added, "We almost need a full-time person to do this and make sure people don't fall through the cracks."
Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said he does not know if the law "necessarily is always implemented." According to the Tribune, even if test results are successfully transferred to police departments, other factors -- including various aliases and jurisdictional issues -- can impede their use in future cases. "There's a breakdown in making sure there is a centralized database (by) which law enforcement can gather that information," Gill said. He said that he believes police agencies are collecting results independently from the courts, adding that his office recently began keeping its own databank of HIV-positive results. "We need to be much more diligent on it," Gill said.
Beltran estimates that solicitation cases are responsible for about one-fifth to one-fourth of newly recorded HIV cases in recent years. She added that ultimately, such prosecutions are effective not because they deter offenders who might be HIV-positive, but because the law requires HIV counseling and drug treatment for felony convictions. Gill noted that the cost of treating those found to be HIV-positive is less than the cost of punishing them. "We're talking about a criminal justice response to what is otherwise a public health issue," Gill said, adding, "Where we introduce a nonjudicial intervention, we're going to be dollar-for-dollar much farther ahead" (Alberty, Salt Lake Tribune, 4/28).