By Saundra Young, CNN Sr. Medical Producer (CNN) — The nightmare Nick Rhoades has been living the past four years began after a one-time sexual encounter with another Iowa man, Adam Plendl.
It was June 2008. The 34-year-old Rhoades, who is HIV positive, says he was on antiretroviral medications. His viral load — the amount of virus in his blood — at the time was undetectable and he says he wore a condom. But Plendl contacted the police because Rhoades did not disclose his HIV status.
What happened next, Rhoades says, changed his life forever.
The former hotel administrator was arrested three months later. The official charge: criminal transmission of HIV — a class B felony in Iowa, where the encounter occurred. Other crimes in this category include manslaughter, kidnapping, drug crimes and robbery.
“I was in shock, trying to figure out where this was all going,” Rhoades says. “My heart was racing a million miles an hour. I’d never been in trouble.”
But Plendl, 22 at the time, says his life was forever changed as well, and that he was severely depressed and suffered panic attacks while waiting to find out if he was infected.
“It was 181 days of pure fear, that six-month window when you don’t know,” he says.
“Individuals that are HIV positive have a moral and currently legal obligation to inform any of their sexual partners of their positive status. Individuals should have the choice as to whether or not they would engage with someone who is HIV positive when they are not. In this case, that choice — and what I also consider a right — was not afforded to me.”
In many countries, intentionally or recklessly infecting another person with HIV is a crime. In the United States, the Center for HIV Law and Policy says 32 states, including Iowa, and two territories — Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands — have such laws on their books.
In fact, GNP+, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, lists the United States at the top of its list of 15 “hot spots” for HIV criminalization.
Now, a debate is under way regarding whether those laws need to be updated or even repealed.
‘I felt pretty less than human’
Rhoades ended up pleading guilty. “I entered a guilty plea based on the advice of my attorney,” he says. “I really didn’t understand the law; I didn’t understand it enough to know I shouldn’t plead guilty.”
So he went to jail, even though Plendl says hospital tests confirmed he was not infected with HIV. His bond was set at $250,000. Unable to post bail, Rhoades spent the next nine months in the Black Hawk County jail.
“I spent six weeks in solitary confinement,” he says. “I was in a cell for 23 hours a day with a camera on 24 hours a day. I was allowed just one visit per week. I could not see out a window.
“For nine months I never saw the sun, except for one time on my way to a medical appointment. I was taken to that medical appointment in my orange jumpsuit and my cuffs and shackles. A mother and daughter saw me in the waiting room and got up and moved away from me. I felt pretty less than human.”
Save lives: End the HIV stigma
On September 11, 2009, Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was moved to the Clarinda Correctional Facility in Clarinda, Iowa, to begin serving that sentence.
After four months in Clarinda, and a successful letter-writing campaign to the judge calling for him to be freed, Rhoades was re-sentenced. His 25 years was reduced to the time he had served, plus five years of supervised probation. He also had to register as a sex offender, and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.
“When you’re a sex offender there’s so much stigma and people jump to conclusions,” Rhoades says. “My life is forever changed. Do a Google search for my name and some pretty horrific stuff comes up. I have had to change a private medical condition and a private life to public domain.
“That’s not to say I can’t be happy, find employment, have a satisfying life, but it’s never going to just go away.”
Federal, state laws on criminalization
HIV criminalization laws began in 1990 when the federal Ryan White CARE Act passed. That law mandated that states criminalize intentional transmission of HIV in order to get funding for treatment and prevention programs.
Some states took it a step further than federal law required, defining intentional transmission as failing to disclose positive status to a sexual partner. The second time the act was reauthorized, in 2000, the requirement that states must criminalize intentional transmission was removed.
The criminalization laws were put in place to protect the public — to prevent cases where someone with HIV knowingly exposed others to the virus and did not disclose their HIV status before a sexual encounter.
In 2010, for example, an HIV-positive man was arrested in Indiana for knowingly and intentionally exposing more than 100 women to the virus over five years. Earlier this year, a Michigan man admitted to police that he was trying to infect as many people as possible and told authorities that over the past three years, he had had unprotected sex with thousands of people.
Sad business !
It’s all about personal responsibility on both ends (pardon the pun). If you don’t know his status, bag up or bag him up or face the consequences of your actions. HIV is not the death sentence it once was, but a simple, polite conversation before the play time is all that’s needed. I personally enjoy filling a condom if the bottom is poz. That way I get to fill the rubber, get him off and then eat my own wad out of the used condom. That way everybody wins. It seems odd to me that so many guys on this conversation are so judgemental. I mean this IS a bare backing site (the BEST one at that). If this conversation was happeing on Raging Stallion, it would seem more in place. Our community constantly confuses me.
Don’t people “play it safe” today by assuming others may be HIV+ and move accordingly? How many think they are NEG but haven’t been tested and claim to be NEG? Even if a person asks, there is no guarantee the answer is factual. If someone wants to practice safe sex THAT person must make it so. This should have never happened to this man. Plendl was an idiot pure and simple.
I absolutely agree it is upon you to assume everyone is HIV positive.
MY FIRST QUESTION IS, “WHAT IN THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH HIS ATTORNEY?” GRANTED HE SHOULD HAVE REVEALED HIS STATUS BUT AND A BIG BUT, HE WAS NOT ASKED. WHEN HE WORE A CONDOM HIS SEXUAL PARTNER WAS NOT AT RISK. HE SHOULD WORK TO HAVE HIS RECORD EXPUNGED. MY LOVER AND I HAD A SIMILIAR EXPERIENCE. WE ATTEND ON A MONTHLY BASIS A GAY NUDE SOCIAL EVENT. WE HAVE NEVER HAD SEX WITH ANYONE AT THE EVENT AS WE ARE NOT PUTTING ON A SHOW FOR OTHERS. HOWEVER IT WAS BROUGHT TO OUR ATTENTION BY A FRIEND OF OURS, THAT CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS WERE REVEALING OUR STATUS TO OTHER MEMBERS OF THE GROUP. WHEN WE PRESSED THE OFFICIALS OF THE PARTY TO GET THIS GOSSIP STOPPED, THEY ONLY WHITEWASHED THE ISSUE TO PROTECT THE GUILTY PARTIES. WHEN I FURTHER PRESSED THE ISSUE, WE WERE TOLD PERHAPS THE GROUP WAS NOT FOR US. ALL WE WANTED WAS A STATEMENT FROM THE LEADERSHIP THAT NOT ONLY THIS IS AGAINST THE LAW IN FL BUT ALSO IF YOU DO NOT REVEAL YOUR STATUS TO A SEXUAL PARTNER. AS I SAID WE NEVER HAD SEX WITH ANYONE AT THESE PARTIES AND WOULD HAVE GLADLY REVEALED OUR STATUS IF ASKED AS THAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AND NOT SOMEONE ELSE. AND THEN WHAT WAS NOT KNOWN MY VIRAL LOAD IS UNDETECTABLE (SINCE 1995) AND I NO LONGER HAVE EJACULATION OR PRE-CUM DUE TO SURGERY SO I AM IN A VERY LOW RISK GROUP. WE WILL GLADLY REVEAL OUR STATUS WHEN ASKED BUT TO ME THAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE OTHER SEXUAL PARTNER TO OPEN THEIR MOUTH AND ASK THE QUESTION. IF ASKED, WE WILL ANSWER TRUTHFULLY. WE ARE NOT ASHAMED OF OUR STATUS BUT THIS MAN GOT A VERY RAW DEAL IN BEING LABELED A SEXUAL OFFENDER. TO US, THIS IS STRETCHING THE POINT AS HE DID NOT ATTACK OR RAPE THE OTHER INDIVIDUAL AND BOTH WERE CONSENTING ADULTS WHO SHOULD HAVE TAKEN RESPONSIBILTY FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS.
Very sad story. No one comes out the winner here. No one is better off. Of course, it could have all been avoided if he had just told the guy. I had sex with a man the day before I tested positive. Of course I told him. He went on and on like something had happened to HIM. It was such a turn off. I agree the Iowa guy was a cunt.
this is crazy hm
I am unclear as to who I am supposed to feel sorry for. And Slippery? Why is this guy a cunt? So what, we should ask every person first about their status? When you are Poz it is your duty to tell others. NOT the other way around.
I agree with slippery slope.
Assume that everyone has something. Wear a condom if you want to ensure that you will not contract anything and go raw if you are willing to take the chances of acquiring something. Being put on a list for being positive is absolutely ridiculous, people that are positive should not have to tell everyone that they are positive. Being positive does not make up who you are, you make up who you are, it is just a part of the whole being. Its just like being gay: Gay is not me, I am Josh and I am gay, not I am gay and my name is Josh.
It seems like some people want to play but don’t want to get burned. If you’re going to have sex with a stranger then you should be grown up adult enough to accept the consequences. It’s like driving a motorcycle without a helmet, if you get a head injury it’s your own fault for not wearing protective gear. Looks like people are still crying Witch and the old laws are still on their side.
I prefer to play it safe and only play with positive guys,rather than go through what that poor guy went through even though nothing ever happened to the crybaby.
By having such laws that would incrimination a HIV+ individual
It’s clear that the cunt who pressed charges never actually asked “Hey, are you HIV positive?” I’d say the onus of protecting yourself falls on YOU. Assume everyone is positive. Wear a condom if you want to play it safer. Don’t if you want to take a risk. But it’s still YOUR responsibility to ask. If this dude had lied about his status then I could see pressing charges, but what was the crime here? Not branding himself with a Scarlet “A” for AIDS? This story makes me want to punch someone. Starting with the bottom and ending with the lawyer who told him to plead guilty.