Call it Law & Order: HIV. Florida’s Delray Beach police force and state attorney have teamed to lengthen jail time for street prostitutes, known for their skill in auto(mobile) fellatio. The cops’ M.O.: arrest sex workers offering up their services, goad them into confessing their HIV status, then charge them with criminal transmission of HIV—a felony offense in Florida and 23 other states. “[Jail] is a revolving door for a lot of these ladies,” says Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney Uriel Neto; by dusting off a rarely used 10-year-old statute, he can impose a maximum five-year sentence in order to “send a message.”
Cops posing as punani patrons need not have sex or be tested (unlike the prostitutes) to “prove” transmission. To convict, the law requires only that the sex worker confess to knowing his or her status. “It’s the same type of interview technique used in a murder case,” he says. With four convictions already won and another pending, other Florida counties are eyeing his pilot program to see how it fares.
Prevention advocates’ worries transcend the obvious civil rights issues. Such interrogation, they say, would liken getting tested to turning oneself in. “The more we criminalize high-risk behavior, the more we drive the epidemic underground,” says Gene Copello, executive director of the AIDS Institute, a DC and Florida policy group that opposes the ho-down. Never mind that most of the johns are asking for only low-risk oral sex. “I don’t need to say [transmission occurred] with scientific certainty,” Neto explains. “It makes my job a lot easier.”