Blog > Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Disclosure Laws: How Do They Affect You?4 min read

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 STD disclosure laws and 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 and costly to treat. In the long-term, they can also increase the risk of developing cancer or infertility. While many of these infections are curable, they can elevate the chances of acquiring non-curable illnesses, like HIV/AIDS, HPV and genital herpes.

Common STDs you can contract include:

  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Genital herpes
  • Chancroid
  • Lymphopatria venereum
  • Granuloma inguinale
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

STD Laws About Disclosure

In the state of California, people with STDs have a duty to disclose it to their partner before they have sex. Afterwards, the infected person must have consent to proceed with sexual contact (yes means yes and no means no). Failure to do so places the partner’s health at risk and may result in legal liability.

The California code concerning STD laws is extensive. 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.” California STD laws are comprehensive, and provide many different protections in this regard.

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 a disease is knowingly transmitted
  • Fraud when the defendant tried to hide their STD status

For instance, suppose that a person was diagnosed with an STD. If their partner questions whether they have an STD and the carrier denies having one, this could be considered fraud.

Consequences of STD Law Violations

If you’ve been exposed to an STD without your knowledge or consent, you may have legal rights to sue the offender under civil law. If that individual is found liable of spreading an illness, he or she can be forced to pay damages to the affected person, including the cost of medical treatment and emotional pain or suffering.

If an incurable STD is not communicated to a sexual partner, the offender may face criminal charges. Although criminal and civil cases are separate proceedings, a criminal conviction can strengthen a civil case. STD partner notification is a serious issue, and criminal laws impose strong sentencing and other consequences for violations. 

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  law. For example, health care providers must inform an infected person’s current and past partners of their possible exposure to a medical condition. What is unlawful is publicly humiliating someone because of their disease. It is also illegal to swindle money by threatening to reveal their illness

Just like knowingly exposing someone to a disease, disclosing someone’s STD status can carry criminal charges. The  victim in this situation can sue for damages. 

STD disclosure is a sensitive topic, so it is important to consider the possible consequences of disclosing another person’s health status. STD disclosure laws can vary, as each state has its own laws on this. 

When to Contact an STD Disclosure Attorney?

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. That trust can be devastated by contracting an STD from a dishonest partner. In these challenging situations, 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 carriers don’t deserve to be publicly embarrassed or harassed because of it.

If you have been affected by a partner who did not disclose their STD status, or if someone is threatening to reveal your private illness, it is a good idea to contact an experienced attorney to counsel you through these difficult circumstances.

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