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House Backs HIV Testing for Accused Rapists




 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure on Monday that would let rape victims force their accused attackers to be tested immediately for HIV to give victims a better chance of getting early treatment that could prevent infection with the virus that causes AIDS web .

The House voted 380-19 to approve legislation that would withhold federal crime-control funding from any states that do not allow a rape victim to insist on an HIV test for an accused attacker within 48 hours of a formal indictment being filed.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Florida Republican Rep. David Weldon, said immediate testing was crucial because treatment with anti-HIV drugs must start within three days of exposure to the virus to prevent infection.

"This bill will save the lives of victims of sexual assault," Weldon said. "These victims are often forced to wait months or even years to know whether or not they were exposed to the HIV virus ."

With no companion bill in the Senate, the measure's chances of enactment this year are uncertain. It bypassed the usual committee process in the House, leaving some lawmakers charging election-year politics were behind its sudden appearance.

"There has been no attempt to fashion this bill to accomplish its worthy, alleged goal," said Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, noting defendants have no right to be heard during the indictment process.

The legislation "requires a person to be subjected to an AIDS test even if they are innocent, even if they can prove their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

About half of U.S. states currently provide for rape victims to get information about their accused attackers' HIV status before a conviction is obtained, congressional aides said. All but three mandate HIV testing after that.

Weldon said requiring an additional probable-cause hearing before allowing the testing of rape suspects likely would result in sufficient delay to "close the 72-hour window" for victims to receive prophylactic HIV treatment.

"You're balancing the life of the victims against the rights of the perpetrators," Weldon said. "The better good is to allow this to go forward and the rights of the accused would be sufficiently protected through the indictment process."

Scott, however, said it was unlikely that an investigation could be conducted, an arrest made, a grand jury convened and an indictment handed up within the three-day time frame. "In a lot of these cases, the indictment comes months after the offense has taken place," he said.

AIDS advocacy groups said they had "grave concerns" about the legislation, suggesting its emphasis was misplaced.

"Why not have a bill that says we are going to provide treatment options to the people who have been victims of these sort of crimes?" said Julio Abreu, a spokesman for AIDS Action.



 


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Information in this article was accurate in October 2, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.