Law Quarterly

The Legality of Venereal Diseases: To Protect or Be Served

By Julianne Hynes

Sep
27

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually transmitted diseases in the United States are on the rise, breaking 2016’s record with 2.3 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia diagnosed in 2017. This is in formation with what is now a four year-long steady increase of diagnosed STDs.[1] Before the 1970s, STDs were commonly referred to as ‘venereal disease’ or ‘VD’. The colloquial name change came with the destigmatization of casual sex, which subsequently resulted in an increase of individuals with such diseases. However, ‘disease’ does not accurately represent subclinical symptoms. Thus, sexually transmitted infections or ‘STIs’ became the more familiar term in the 1980s. STIs include genital herpes and trichomoniasis.[2]

Both sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections have been stigmatized to promote dirtiness and promiscuity since the 1970s. According to a study performed in 2014, “23% of 112 men strongly agreed that people with STDs are people that hang with the wrong crowd, whereas 23% of these men strongly disagreed”.[3] This indicated that people with sexually transmitted diseases are viewed as people with poor judgement, and are therefore deserving of their predicaments. The stigmatization of venereal diseases has become one of the worst side effects of contracting one. For example, genital herpes present as sores that can often be mistaken for an ingrown hair or a pimple. Though a person’s first outbreak may present with symptoms similar to the flu, future outbreaks are much less severe and less often.[4] With only the symptoms being observed, herpes is no more than an annoying disturbance of the skin. However, the infection’s infamousness can lead to a person isolating themself, abstinence, and depression.[5] Due to societal standards, there are more symptoms to a sexually transmitted disease or a sexually transmitted infection than what originally appears on the skin.

There may be other consequences of having a venereal disease: what happens when you pass it on. According to New York state law, “Venereal disease; person knowing himself to be infected. Any person who, knowing himself or herself to be infected with an infectious venereal disease, has sexual intercourse with another shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”[6] This law does not clarify whether or not a person must inform their partner prior to or after sexual intercourse of their venereal disease. However, a lack of prior informance could allow the receiver to sue in court under the title of negligence. For example, famous RnB singer Usher was sued in 2018 by Laura Helm for “negligence, fraud, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress”[7] after having unprotected intercourse with her on various occasions. In New York, transmitting a sexually transmitted disease or a sexually transmitted infection would be prosecuted under torts law, which, according to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 7, is “an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability. In the context of torts, “injury” describes the invasion of any legal right, whereas “harm” describes a loss or detriment in fact that an individual suffers.”[8]

Citations

Handsfield, Hunter H. “Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Infections, and Disorders: What’s in a Name?” Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association 42, no. 4 (2015): 169. Accessed September 13, 2018. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000251.

Howard, Jacqueline. “US STD Rates Reach Record High, CDC Says.” CNN. August 28, 2018. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/28/health/std-rates-united-states-2018-bn/index.html.

Morris, Jessica, Sherri Lippman, Susan Philip, Kyle Bernstein, Torsten Neilands, and Marguerita Lightfoot. “Sexually Transmitted Infection Related Stigma and Shame Among African American Male Youth: Implications for Testing Practices, Partner Notification, and Treatment.” AIDs Patient Care and STDs 28, no. 9 (September 1, 2014): 499-506. Accessed September 13, 2018. doi:10.1089/apc.2013.0316.

Boskey, Elizabeth, and Susan Olender. “It Can Be Depressing to Learn You Have Herpes, but It Gets Easier.” Verywell Health. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-deal-with-depression-after-a-herpes-diagnosis-3133005.


“Genital Herpes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 01, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm.

“2016 New York Laws :: PBH – Public Health :: Article 23 – CONTROL OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES :: Title 1 – (2304 – 2312) CARE AND TREATMENT :: 2307 – Venereal Disease; Person Knowing Himself to Be Infected.” Justia Law. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2016/pbh/article-23/title-1/2307.

Helm v. Raymond (The Superior Court of Fulton County 2017).

LII Staff. “Tort.” LII / Legal Information Institute. June 14, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/tort.

  1. Jacqueline Howard, “US STD Rates Reach Record High, CDC Says,” CNN, August 28, 2018, , accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/28/health/std-rates-united-states-2018-bn/index.html.

  2. Hunter H. Handsfield, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Infections, and Disorders: What’s in a Name?” Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association 42, no. 4 (2015): , accessed September 13, 2018, doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000251.

  3. Jessica Morris et al., “Sexually Transmitted Infection Related Stigma and Shame Among African American Male Youth: Implications for Testing Practices, Partner Notification, and Treatment,” AIDs Patient Care and STDs 28, no. 9 (September 1, 2014): , accessed September 13, 2018, doi:10.1089/apc.2013.0316.

  4. “Genital Herpes,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 01, 2017, , accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm.

  5. Elizabeth Boskey and Susan Olender, “It Can Be Depressing to Learn You Have Herpes, but It Gets Easier.,” Verywell Health, , accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-deal-with-depression-after-a-herpes-diagnosis-3133005.

  6. “2016 New York Laws :: PBH – Public Health :: Article 23 – CONTROL OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES :: Title 1 – (2304 – 2312) CARE AND TREATMENT :: 2307 – Venereal Disease; Person Knowing Himself to Be Infected.,” Justia Law, , accessed September 13, 2018, https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2016/pbh/article-23/title-1/2307.

  7. Helm v. Raymond (The Superior Court of Fulton County 2017).

  8. LII Staff, “Tort,” LII / Legal Information Institute, June 14, 2017, , accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/tort.

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