New report shows how women living with HIV are leading the response against HIV criminalisation in the EECA region

A new report produced by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS with the Global Network of People Living with HIV on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE, illustrates how women living with HIV, who are disproportionally impacted by HIV criminalisation across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region, have also been the leaders in research, advocacy and activism against it. The report is now available in English after being originally published in Russian in January.

The report illustrates how HIV criminalisation and gender inequality are intimately and inextricably linked. By highlighting prosecution data from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine disaggregated by sex, the report shows how the burden of HIV criminalisation is falling upon women.

The report also includes some heart-breaking personal stories including that of a woman in Russia who was prosecuted for breastfeeding her baby, as well as several women in Russia blackmailed by former partners who threatened to report them for alleged HIV exposure as a way to control, coerce, or abuse them.

The evidence provided in the report clearly demonstrates that HIV criminalisation not only fails to protect women from HIV, but worsens their status in society, making them even more susceptible to violence and structural inequalities due to the way their HIV-positive status is framed by the criminal law.

The report goes on to explore how women living with HIV in the region are vulnerable to a range of economic consequences including loss of property, as well as ostracism and discrimination in their communities, including being separated from their children, because:

  • Women living with HIV’s reproductive and maternal choices are controlled by, and can be abused by, the state.
  • Women living with HIV in partnerships with HIV-negative men can be threatened with prosecution, or be prosecuted, even if there has been prior disclosure and consent to the ‘risk’ and even when condoms were used or the woman had an undetectable viral load.
  • Confidential medical information can be illegally shared with law enforcement agencies.

The report also shows a direct connection between HIV criminalisation and other forms of criminalisation – notably the use and possession of drugs, and of sex work – that exacerbate the burden of discrimination, the violation of rights, and violence experienced by women living with HIV in the region.

Despite the difficult picture painted, the report provides hope, however.

It is the mobilisation of the women’s community and the meaningful participation of HIV-positive women and their allies in advocacy for law reform, rights protections – and in the preparation of alternative reports to UN Committees such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – that are making a real difference in the fight against HIV criminalisation in the region.

Read the report in English or Russian.

US: Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) publishes statement opposing HIV criminalisation

DREDF HIV Criminalization Statement

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) opposes the criminalization of people based on their HIV-positive status. In addition to being harmful to public health, laws and prosecution targeting HIV-positive people constitute discrimination on the basis of disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[1] prohibits disability discrimination by state and local governments.[2] State laws and prosecutions that criminalize people living with HIV without a basis in current objective medical and scientific knowledge violate the ADA and other antidiscrimination mandates. We urge lawmakers across the country to modernize their HIV laws and policies, and to discard outdated and harmful punitive approaches.

Background

During the outset of the HIV epidemic, many states enacted laws that criminalized or enhanced the criminal penalties for certain acts by people living with HIV that were thought to create the risk of exposure to HIV.[3] These laws were passed at a time when fear and misinformation about HIV was widespread, particularly about how HIV is transmitted. Today, with the benefit of more than 30 years of research and considerable advances in medical treatments, the scientific and medical communities have learned much more about how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent transmission. We now know that HIV is not spread through saliva, tears, or sweat.[4] We also know that the use of condoms, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), and antiviral medication, by themselves or in combination, can dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission, in some cases to zero.[5] HIV has also become a medical condition that is managed with medications and other treatments, with people with HIV now having a life expectancy that matches that of the general public.[6] Yet most HIV criminal laws do not reflect current scientific and medical knowledge.[7] In addition, HIV criminalization laws undermine public health by discouraging people from seeking testing and treatment options, such as antiviral medication, that can protect their health and reduce transmission.[8]

Outdated HIV criminalization laws constitute disability discrimination because they treat people living with HIV more harshly without an objective scientific basis. Several states, such as California, Missouri, and North Carolina, have taken steps in recent years to modernize their state HIV laws.[9] Unfortunately, many state laws have still not been updated to reflect current scientific and medical knowledge. Laws in several states criminalize acts that cannot transmit HIV, such as spitting,[10] or that pose no material risk of transmission.[11] These laws do not account for actions that reduce risk, such as condom usage or PrEP or whether transmission has actually occurred.[12]
People with disabilities, including people living with HIV, deserve to live lives free from discrimination and irrational prejudice. DREDF opposes outdated laws that single out people for criminal penalties or enhanced criminal penalties based on their HIV-positive status. These laws violate the ADA and undermine public health.  They should be repealed.


[1] 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.

[2] 42 U.S.C. § 12132.

[3] See J. Kelly Strader, Criminalization as a Policy Response to a Public Health Crisis, 27 J. Marshall L. Rev. 435 (1994); Wendy E. Permet, AIDS and Quarantine: The Revival of an Archaic Doctrine, 14 Hofstra L. Rev. 53 (1985-1986).

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ways HIV is Not Transmitted, (April 21, 2021) available at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-transmission/not-transmitted.html (“[HIV] is not transmitted […] Through saliva, tears, or sweat”).

[5] Robert W. Eisinger, Carl W. Dieffenbach, Anthony S. Fauci, HIV Viral Load and Transmissibility of HIV Infection: Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, Journal of the American Medical Association (2019), available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2720997; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, The Science Is Clear—With HIV, Undetectable Equals Untransmittable: NIH Officials Discuss Scientific Evidence and Principles Underlying the U=U Concept, (Jan. 10 2019), available at https://www.niaid.nih.gov/news-events/science-clear-hiv-undetectable-equals-untransmittable (“In recent years, an overwhelming body of clinical evidence has firmly established the HIV Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) concept as scientifically sound, say officials from the National Institutes of Health. U=U means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load—the amount of HIV in the blood—by taking and adhering to antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others.”); Alison J. Rodger, Valentina Cambiano, Tina Bruun, et al., Sexual Activity Without Condoms and Risk of HIV Transmission in Serodifferent Couples When the HIV-Positive Partner Is Using Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy, JAMA. 2016;316(2):171-181. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5148 (2016), available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2533066;  Roger Chou, Christopher Evans, Adam Hoverman, et al., Preexposure Prophylaxis for the Prevention of HIV Infection: Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force, JAMA (2019), available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2735508; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP Effectiveness (May 13, 2021), available at  https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep/prep-effectiveness.html (“PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed.”).

[6] Hasina Samji, et al., Closing the Gap: Increases in Life Expectancy among Treated HIV-Positive Individuals in the United States and Canada (December 18, 2013), PLOS ONE, available at https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081355.

[7] Division of HIV Prevention, National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV Criminalization and Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S., available at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/policies/law/criminalization-ehe.html (“After more than 30 years of HIV research and significant biomedical advancements to treat and prevent HIV, most HIV criminalization laws do not reflect current scientific and medical evidence.”).

[8] Division of HIV Prevention, National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV Criminalization and Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S., available at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/policies/law/criminalization-ehe.html (“[HIV criminalization] laws have not increased disclosure and may discourage HIV testing, increase stigma against people with HIV, and exacerbate disparities.”); J. Stan Lehman et al., Prevalence and Public Health Implications of State Laws that Criminalize Potential HIV Exposure in the United States, AIDS Behav. 2014; 18(6): 997–1006., available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019819/.

[9] Division of HIV Prevention, National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV and STD Criminalization Laws, available at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/policies/law/states/exposure.html.

[10] See, e.g., MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-27-14(2); Ind. Code §§ 35-42-2-1, 35-45-16-2(c), 35-50-3-3; OHIO REV. CODE ANN. §§ 2921.38, 2929.14.; 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 2703.

[11] See ALA. CODE § 22-11A-21; ARK. CODE ANN. § 5-14-123; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ways HIV Can Be Transmitted, (April 21, 2021) available at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-transmission/ways-people-get-hiv.html (“[t]here is little to no risk of getting HIV” from oral sex); Julie Fox, Peter J. White, Jonathan Weber, et al., Quantifying Sexual Exposure to HIV Within an HIV-Serodiscordant Relationship: Development of an Algorithm, AIDS 2011, 25:1065–1082 at 1077 (2011).

[12] J. Stan Lehman et al., Prevalence and Public Health Implications of State Laws that Criminalize Potential HIV Exposure in the United States, AIDS Behav. 2014; 18(6): 997–1006., available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019819/.

Pressure to produce more content with fewer staff hinders journalists ability to improve their media coverage of HIV criminalisation

Journalists’ working conditions foster stigmatising coverage of HIV criminalisation

For many years, HIV activists and researchers have criticised the stigmatising way that HIV criminalisation cases are covered in the mainstream press. However, an ethnographic study recently published in the Canadian Review of Sociology argues that the working conditions in which journalists now operate makes it extremely challenging for them to improve their reporting on HIV criminalisation.

With the shift to online news creating revenue challenges, newsrooms are under pressure to produce more content with fewer staff. This has resulted in journalists relying on police press releases as sources of news for crime stories, including HIV criminalisation. The author of the study argues that, without targeted efforts to disrupt the mainstream narrative on HIV criminalisation, “this type of newswork makes it likely that longstanding patterns of sensational, stigmatising news will persist.”

Previous studies highlight how reporting on HIV criminalisation often makes people living with HIV seem dangerous to society and exaggerates the risks of HIV transmission. Such messaging frequently relies on harmful gender and racial stereotypes and serves to increase stigma towards people living with HIV and other marginalised communities. It also has serious negative repercussions for those individuals involved in cases, making them ‘eternally googleable’ which can prevent them from gaining employment or housing.

HIV criminalisation laws in Canada are especially severe, with people living with HIV at risk of conviction for non-disclosure of their HIV status to sexual partners – even when transmission has not occurred.

Dr Colin Hastings of Concordia University in Canada wanted to understand how journalists go about writing stories on HIV criminalisation, with the hope that this might reveal opportunities for HIV activists and advocates to improve reporting on this topic. He therefore undertook ethnographic interviews with 20 journalists and one police communications representative. The interviews generally started with a question asking the participants to describe a typical workday and explored the conditions which influence their everyday activities.

Findings

The interviews revealed that the pressure on journalists to produce a constant flow of content across multiple platforms hinders their ability to conduct fact-checking or more in-depth investigation. A reporter described how he considers:

“Every hour as a deadline… so sometimes I’m like, ugh, this story could have been so much better had I had time to go through everything.”

In this context, repurposing ready-made text from other sources represents a quick and efficient strategy for producing content. When writing crime stories, this usually means relying on press releases issued by the police – whose communications departments are adept at ensuring that their texts flow easily into newsrooms.

An online web editor described how her work consisted of “copy and pasting it pretty much” while a reporter said:

“With the police, I just usually do the stuff they send out, they send a daily update of what’s happening on their side, the police side, and usually I take a look at that and re-write those.”

Many of the interviewees felt this was an unfortunate but inevitable fact of contemporary journalism, as they struggle to keep pace with the unrelenting online news cycle. Yet the interviews demonstrated how the reliance on police press releases means that it is not only information provided by the police but also the police’s perspective on an event that is repackaged as ‘news’.

A police communications representative mentioned in their interview that a key factor in the police’s decision to publish a press release about a case is whether they believe there is a threat to public safety. This threat is made clear by combining an individual’s name, photo, and personal information with descriptions of criminal charges they face and language emphasising the danger they pose – for example, “police are concerned there may be more victims”.

In the context of HIV criminalisation, this means equating non-disclosure of HIV with dangerous criminality. Journalists covering crime stories often do not have the experience, time, or resources to question this, as outlined by a veteran reporter:

“HIV non-disclosure was always covered as a crime if the police think it’s a crime… the cops say this is a crime, and you say oh god this is a crime, crime is bad, this person is a bad person.”

The language of public safety also serves as a signal to journalists that a case may be particularly newsworthy. A breaking news reporter said:

“They [the police] might say very clearly that there is a huge public safety element… Language like that is a really good indicator [of newsworthiness] for us.”

What determines newsworthiness is also directed by what is likely to be read and shared widely. ‘Good’ headlines are those that draw the highest volume of readers to the story. An experienced reporter named Lisa explained how this creates pressure to choose more salacious wording for headlines about HIV criminalisation:

“You can write two headlines for your story, and the [software] system will push them out there and then you can see which headline is attracting more clicks so that at a certain point you can just bail on the more boring headline and go to the salacious headline that’s working better.”

As well as the police press releases serving to provide journalists with ready-made sources of content, the police communications representative recognised the work of journalists as a cost-effective and time-efficient part of policing work:

“We now see regularly criminals surrendering shortly after we put their pictures up. And if you think about, our main account we reach thousands of people, but if a news organization with 1.75 million retweets, it means everyone in the city is going to get it… Out of all the stuff that we do, that’s the most satisfying because no one expects us to be able to get a homicide investigation to surrender, and these things are very expensive and very time consuming.”

Given that the police often reinforce social, racial, and economic inequities in society, this extension of their influence is likely to be perceived by many as a worrying development.

Conclusion

This study exposes how the pressure on journalists to produce a constant flow of online news content has reduced many to copying and pasting police press releases, since they have little time to investigate and provide further context. This results in journalists reproducing the perspective of the police in news coverage, which constructs people living with HIV as a threat to public safety.

Hastings notes that not all of the journalists interviewed felt comfortable with the reliance on police press releases as sources of news. Yet their working conditions have made it increasingly difficult for them to disrupt problematic news coverage.

While acknowledging the significant contributions already made by HIV activists to improving media coverage of HIV criminalisation stories, Hastings makes the following suggestions for activists’ efforts:

  • Producing texts (such as press releases) that can compete with those published by the police
  • Campaigning to update and reform journalistic style guides which reporters follow when crafting a story
  • Producing specialised guides for reporting on social justice issues
  • Supporting and investing in news organizations and alternative presses that practice slower, long-form journalism
  • Expanding the efforts of community-based organizations to produce their own messaging through independent publishing, social media campaigns, or in-person community forums
  • References

    Hastings C.  Writing for digital news about HIV criminalization in Canada. Canadian Review of Sociology, online ahead of print, 7 February 2022. doi: 10.1111/cars.12374

Zimbabwe becomes the second country in Africa to fully repeal its HIV-specific criminal law

Last week, Zimbabwe’s parliament finally agreed to repeal the country’s HIV-specific criminal law, section 79 of the Criminal Code.  The law which contained the provision to repeal section 79 – the Marriages Act – was originally gazetted in July 2019.  It will now be signed into law by the president.

The significance of this cannot be underestimated. Zimbabwe becomes only the second country on the African continent to fully repeal its HIV-specific criminal law after the Democratic Republic of Congo repealed its law in 2018.

Although there have been remarkable advocacy successes elsewhere on the continent in preventing an HIV-specific criminal law being enacted in Malawi in 2017 and the suspension of one of Kenya’s two HIV-specific criminal laws on the grounds of unconstitutionality in 2015, it is rare for a sitting parliament to decide to completely repeal an HIV-specific criminal law.

That it did so is testament to a multi-year, multi-stakeholder campaign that began with civil society advocates sensitising communities and parliamentarians, notably the Honorable Dr Ruth Labode, Chairperson of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, who began pushing for a change in the law in 2018 having previously been in favour of the provision in order to protect her female constituents.

However, after attending a number of meetings, notably a November 2018 Symposium convened by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, ARASA and SALC, along with other civil society organisations, she began to appreciate that HIV criminalisation does not, in fact protect women, but actually harms them.

We all know very well that in Zimbabwe and the world-over, we do not have diagnostic equipment which can tell us who gave HIV to the other and at what time. There is an assumption that whoever has manifested the disease first is the one who transmitted the virus. It can be anybody and it could be the other way round. If you are a woman and suddenly you find yourself positive, you will not tell your partner because of this law yet if the law was not there you would tell your partner and go and access ARVs to live happily ever after.
 
Hon Dr Ruth Labode, 2018

 

Zimbabwe was, in fact, the first African country to enact an HIV-specific criminal law, including it in the Sexual Offences Act of 2001. The law, which was supported by women’s rights groups who sought to address violence against women, made a criminal of anyone diagnosed HIV-positive who “intentionally does anything or permits the doing of anything” which (s)he “knows … will infect another person with HIV”.

The law was further amended in 2006 through the enactment of section 79 of the Zimbabwe Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, 2004. The new law, erroneously titled “Deliberate transmission of HIV”, did not require HIV transmission or for an accused to have an intention to transmit HIV: only that they undertake an act that includes “a real risk or possibility” of transmitting HIV. Further, section 79 was so broad it could be applied to anyone who knows they have HIV or who realises “there is a real risk or possibility” they might have HIV. The only defence was if the HIV-negative partner knew their partner had HIV and consented.

There were many attempts before the first reported prosecution in 2008.  Since then, there have been at least 18 further HIV criminalisation cases, making Zimbabwe the country with the highest known rate of HIV prosecutions in Africa.

As prosecutions continued, it became apparent that Zimbabwe’s HIV-specific criminal law did not protect women. Numerous cases accused women, including where it was likely that the accused was infected by her accuser spouse (although she was diagnosed first) and where men have made allegations as revenge for complaints about domestic violence.

The disproportionate impact of the law on women was highlighted in a 2015 campaign, ‘HIV on Trial – a threat to women’s health’ by Zimbabwe Lawyer’s For Human Rights (ZLHR) at the same time that they – ultimately unsuccessfully – challenged the law at the Constitutional Court. The campaign highlighted the case of Samukelisiwe Mlilo, who features in a powerful 15 minute documentary, ‘Alone But Together – Women and Criminalisation of HIV Transmission: The story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo’.

The focus then turned to repealing the law, and by 2019 the campaign to repeal the law was in full swing, supported by a wide range of stakeholders – including HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE, the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV (ZNPP+) and UNDP.  

That year, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE published a range of policy documents aimed at different stakeholders – including people living with HIV, the media and parliamentarians – highlighting six key messages:

  1. Section 79 is vague, overly broad and open to unjust application.
  2. HIV criminalisation violates human rights and increases HIV stigma.
  3. HIV criminalisation laws are unscientific.
  4. HIV criminalisation does not prevent HIV.
  5. HIV criminalisation is a barrier to HIV testing, treatment and prevention.
  6. HIV criminalisation is harmful to women.

Now that Zimbabwe has repealed its law, it’s surely only a matter of time before the other 30 countries on the African continent with HIV-specific laws follow suit.  Advocates in Kenya – where the other HIV-specific criminal law is being challenged – and in Uganda – where the HIV-specific law is also being challenged – will be especially encouraged, as should all of us fighting for HIV justice around the world.

 

US: Women living with HIV at the forefront of the fight against HIV criminalisation

Ending HIV Criminalization Starts With Me

Tiffany Moore had a panic attack at a Tennessee playground. That’s how her 2021 ended.

All she’d wanted was to give her 8-year-old daughter the gentle childhood she’d never had. By age 10, Moore had for years been strapped down repeatedly in mental health wards and “pumped full of drugs” in different hospitals. That was in addition to the abuse she’d experienced at home. Half a decade later, she would be on the streets, surviving through work with sex traffickers and pimps. At age 10, she says, she didn’t expect to see adulthood. Now, as a mother, she was determined her daughter would grow up enjoying her childhood experiences, including afternoons on swings and slides with her mommy.

But until December 2021, when a change in Tennessee law that she fought for went into effect, Moore was legally forbidden from visiting a playground. That’s because at 21, she was convicted of aggravated prostitution—the aggravation being that she’d acquired HIV during a rape. And even though she did not transmit HIV to anyone, Moore spent 20 years on Tennessee’s sex offender registry as a result of her status.

Within weeks of her removal from the registry, Moore was at a playground surrounded by children, and every fiber in her body told her to flee, that she was one call to the police away from being separated from her daughter.

“They’ve instilled for 20 years that you’re a danger to children and your child. You can’t go here; you can’t go there. You can’t be here; you can’t be there,” she says. “I just know—I know I have a lot of pieces to pick up.”

She’s not alone. Though the public face of HIV criminalization laws has been primarily gay men—particularly gay Black men—recent data show that such legislation also targets Black women.

In particular, research conducted by the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles has found that in California, for instance, Black women make up 3% of the population and 4% of people living with HIV but 22% of people prosecuted under that state’s old HIV criminalization law.

In Georgia, Black women make up 17% of the population and 18% of those living with HIV but fully half of people prosecuted under that state’s HIV criminalization laws. In Kentucky, which has a law similar to Tennessee’s, 32 people have been arrested on HIV criminalization charges. All but one of those charges was associated with sex work. In that state, those arrested have mostly been white women. According to an article in a Tennessee newspaper, by 2009, 38 people besides Moore had been arrested under the aggravated prostitution charge.

“The image we have around HIV criminalization laws maybe is of a gay cisgender man who doesn’t disclose his status to a sex partner,” says Nathan Cisneros, MS, the Williams Institute’s HIV criminalization analyst and the coauthor of the Kentucky study as well as a forthcoming report on Tennessee’s laws.

“What we find in states that have prostitution-specific HIV laws, though, is that sex work ends up taking on a substantial minority, sometimes a majority and sometimes the overwhelming majority of enforcement actions. And those primarily affect women,” he says.

Because arrest records reflect someone’s assigned gender at birth and not their preferred gender, it’s unclear how many of those arrested are women of transgender experience living with HIV, but other data suggest that this group is overrepresented among sex workers nationwide.

Yet women with HIV aren’t just the target of these laws—they are also fighting them, forming coalitions, writing legislation and, like Moore, testifying about the science and impact of the laws to effect change.

Today, 30 states have statutes specifically prosecuting people living with HIV for real or imagined crimes related to HIV transmission or exposure, according to The Center for HIV Law and Policy.

The list of potential crimes reads like an HIV stigma fever dream. In some instances, people with HIV can be arrested for allegedly not telling a partner they are living with the virus—even if they are taking HIV medications and are undetectable, which eliminates the risk of transmitting it to a partner.

They can be prosecuted even if they did tell the partner they were living with HIV but their partner tells the police that they didn’t. In other instances, people living with HIV can be arrested for exposing others to bodily fluids, including via spitting and biting, acts that don’t transmit HIV. Yet other laws prosecute syringe sharing among people living with HIV who inject drugs, and still more criminalize even semen donation by those who are HIV positive and want to become parents.

In addition, nine states have so-called sentence enhancements that can take a preexisting charge unrelated to HIV and increase prison time and penalties for people living with the virus. Six states may require people living with HIV who are found guilty to register as sex offenders.

The states that specifically increase the severity of penalties for people involved in sex work primarily impact women living with HIV. In Tennessee, where Moore lives and served time, a sex work charge alone is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. But add in the HIV charge and suddenly a woman is facing a felony, punishable by years in prison. That conviction also requires registration as a sex offender, with the heightened punishment of being classified as a violent offender.

“It makes it difficult to get housing and stable employment, to receive certain benefits, to vote in elections,” Cisneros says. “And of course, if you have children, it creates all these other terrible complications. You can’t pick your child up from school. You can’t visit them at the playground. You can’t have your children’s friends over for a sleepover.”

From the beginning, Moore’s experience of living with hiv was intertwined with incarceration. When she was arrested for sex work in March 2002, the state of Tennessee also required her to get an HIV test. That’s when she found out she was living with the virus.

But she wasn’t allowed a private moment to process it. Instead, when court staff read out the charges at her arraignment, “my status was read out loud in court,” she remembers. For her, she says, that was the “initial attack” in a yearslong journey through the court system.

She wasn’t offered care or services. She simply left jail and went back to her former life. She evaded the public health workers who were circulating her name and photo among the traffickers who could use it to hurt her. She was 20, not even legally able to drink. To cope, she’d been cutting herself for years. When that failed to stop the terror and flashbacks, she turned to crack.

“That was my Prozac,” she says. “My entire left wrist is cut up from my coping skills. [Using drugs] was the way to not cut myself. That was the only way I knew to keep myself safe.”

Now that she knew her HIV status, future arrests carried with them the extra weight of the criminalization statute. By August 2002, she’d been arrested again and could either stand trial, which could result in a 15-year prison term, or she could plead guilty to the charges and accept a four-year sentence with no possibility of parole and be added to the sex offender registry as a violent offender. No one had acquired HIV from her. She hadn’t even been engaged in sex work when the arrest happened. She’d just been loitering in a prostitution zone while living with HIV.

That began what would eventually total eight and a half years behind bars, off and on—always being released between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., always finding johns waiting for her and always finding that drug treatment centers couldn’t take her because of her HIV diagnosis or her status as a registered sex offender. Halfway houses were out of the question—the sex offender registry again. It was maddening, Moore says now. She wanted to get off the streets, but the criminal code kept her stuck.

One thing did change during this time. She started on HIV meds in prison, at first on drugs that made her sick every day. About three years into her first term, she had an undetectable viral load, which means she couldn’t transmit the virus. But that didn’t stop the arrests from coming.

“I was always arrested before the medication ran out,” she says, so her treatment wasn’t interrupted.

In the Kentucky report from the Williams Institute, Cisneros and colleagues found that most of the arrests were made on the streets or in parking garages. At least 15% of arrests were “almost certainly for conduct that did not involve sex work. Indeed, arrests for allegations of sex work do not need to include actual sex acts.”

In 2011, Moore left prison for the last time. She finally found a treatment center that would accept her despite her status on the sex offender registry. She quit drugs. She started working with an HIV service organization and for the first time began addressing her posttraumatic stress disorder. Importantly, she finally connected with others living with HIV through the Sero Project, a group of people with the virus who are working to change criminalization laws.

And, almost as quickly, she started working to modernize Tennessee’s HIV laws. By 2015, she was also a new mom. What’s more, for the first time, she had her own apartment, a car and a job.

“I started to realize,” Moore says, “that what was done to me wasn’t right.”

Again, moore wasn’t alone. women and nonbinary people living with HIV have been working along with gay men to guide the decades-long effort to reform HIV criminalization laws.

Whether it’s Tami Haught, who was key to getting Iowa to remove people living with HIV from the sex offender registry in 2014, or Barb Cardell, who advocated successfully in Colorado for the elimination of mandatory HIV testing for people arrested for sex work and the removal of felony charges from someone living with HIV convicted of sex work, or Naina Khanna and other members of Positive Women’s Network–USA, who worked to reduce sex work charges for women with HIV from felonies to misdemeanors, women living with HIV have been guiding the movement against HIV criminalization for years.

And that doesn’t even include advocates living in states that have yet to reform their laws, like Indiana, Georgia and Ohio.

So in 2015, when Moore testified before the Tennessee Statehouse to advocate for people placed on the sex offender registry to be able to have themselves removed if they had been sex trafficked, raped or abused, she was part of a bigger sisterhood. But it came at a price. She went back to her old coping mechanism. She relapsed. It was the first time, she says, that she knew what it was like to lose everything because “before, I had nothing.”

In the last seven years, though, Moore has held on to her recovery with both hands.

“I grew up,” she says. “It was like, literally, wisdom overnight.”

Now, she’s stepping into advocacy again. She is part of a complaint filed by The Center for HIV Law and Policy asking the Department of Justice to investigate HIV criminal statutes in Tennessee and Ohio. And it looks like the tide is turning.

In 2016, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care released the first clinical guidelines on addressing HIV criminalization, and the American Psychological Association officially came out against HIV criminalization laws. This was followed by a consensus statement issued in 2018 by the world’s premier HIV scientists and clinicians arguing that laws should be revised to reflect the actual science of HIV transmission.

The following year, the American Medical Association came out against the laws. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website has a page dedicated to how HIV criminalization laws are inconsistent with the national effort to reduce new HIV transmissions by 90% by 2030.

For Moore, being removed from the sex offender registry at the end of 2021 was bittersweet. The aftereffects linger, she says, and she still thinks about how Tennessee’s law might be different had she been able to tolerate “the uncomfortable second” that comes with the overwhelming urge to hide in just one more inhalation on a crack pipe.

As written, the law requires people seeking removal from the list to prove that they were abused, raped or otherwise sex trafficked in order to gain their freedom. Courts can require trials that force women to come up with proof of the abuse.

Now, Moore says she’s on a new healing journey, with the registry behind her. She will continue to pick through the traumatic effects of surviving her childhood and living with the stigma of the registry. Still, when she sees her daughter playing in her own room, surrounded by all the things she didn’t have growing up, in an apartment Moore pays for with a job she selected, with a car she owns parked outside, she says a sense of peace and happiness comes over her.

“I just want her to be a kid,” she says. “There’s so much time for her heart to be broken by the world we live in right now. I just want her to play with slime and dolls.”

Russia: Court overturns decision of the Ministry of Justice to include NGO in “foreign agents” register for commenting on HIV criminalisation law

Court orders Ministry of Justice to remove “Humanitarian Action” charitable foundation from registry of “foreign agents”

St Petersburg City Court has ordered the Russian Ministry of Justice to remove the charitable foundation “Humanitarian Action” from the register of “foreign agents” NGOs. This was reported on the foundation’s Telegram channel.

“This is the first time in Russia that an NPO has been removed from the register under a court ruling without rejecting foreign funding,” the report said.

For now, the foundation remains on the register of “foreign agents” NGOs.

The St. Petersburg-based charity foundation Humanitarian Action works with drug users and people living with HIV. The organisation was declared a foreign agent in December 2020.

The Russian authorities decided that Humanitarian Action was engaged in “political activities”. Comments on amendments to the law “On the prevention of the spread of HIV infection in Russia” sent to the Ministry of Justice as part of an open public debate were cited as such.

According to OVDInfo, 220 non-profit organisations and unregistered public associations have been included in the register of “foreign agents” since 2012. Of these, 99 were removed from the list due to cessation of activities (liquidation or reorganisation), 40 due to cessation of foreign funding or political activities, five after a complaint about the unreasonableness or illegality of their inclusion in the register was satisfied, and one after property was returned to a foreign source.


Суд обязал Минюст исключить благотворительный фонд «Гуманитарное действие» из реестра «иноагентов»

Санкт-Петербургский городской суд обязал Минюст России исключить благотворительный фонд «Гуманитарное действие» из реестра НКО — «иностранных агентов». Об этом сообщили в телеграм-канале фонда.

«Это первое в России исключение НКО из реестра по судебному решению без отказа от иностранного финансирования», — говорится в сообщении.

Пока фонд остается в реестре НКО-«иноагентов».

Петербургский благотворительный фонд «Гуманитарное действие» работает с наркопотребителями и людьми с ВИЧ. Организацию объявили иностранным агентом в декабре 2020 года.

Российские власти решили, что «Гуманитарное действие» занимается «политической деятельностью». В качестве примера таковой, в частности, приводились комментарии о поправках в закон «О предупреждении распространения ВИЧ-инфекции в России», направленные в адрес Минюста в рамках открытых общественных обсуждений.

По данным «ОВД-Инфо», с 2012 года в реестр НКО-«иностранных агентов» включили 220 некоммерческих организаций и незарегистрированных общественных объединений. Из них 99 были исключены из списка в связи с прекращением деятельности (ликвидация или реорганизация), 40 — из-за прекращения иностранного финансирования или политической деятельности, пять — после удовлетворения жалобы на необоснованность или незаконность включения в реестр, одна — после возврата имущества иностранному источнику.

It’s HIV Justice Network’s 10th Anniversary

Our founding document, the Oslo Declaration, was created 10 years ago this week

On February 13, 2012, a group of individuals from civil society around the world, concerned about the inappropriate and overly broad use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV for behaviour that in any other circumstance would be considered lawful, came together in Oslo to create the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation.

The Oslo Declaration, published on the brand new hivjustice.net website on February 22, 2012, became the founding document of the HIV Justice Network (HJN). Within weeks, more than 1700 supporters from more than 115 countries had signed up to the Declaration, creating a network of diverse activists, all fighting for HIV justice.

HJN was formed due to a growing concern over increasingly punitive approaches to HIV prevention: in particular, the inappropriate use of criminal law, even though HIV criminalisation is discredited as a public health response. We have grown in size, capacity, and impact in the intervening decade thanks to our funders – the Monument Trust, the Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and UNAIDS – our small-but-dedicated HJN team, our Supervisory Board, our Global Advisory Panel and our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners.

Today, we collate authoritative data and information to build the evidence base against the unjust criminalisation of people living with HIV. We also raise awareness of the harms of this approach in critical arenas including among the scientific, medical, policy, advocacy, and donor communities.

Most importantly, we galvanise and nurture the global movement against HIV criminalisation, by providing an advocacy hub to bring individuals, national, regional, and global networks and organisations together to catalyse change.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the organisation on our journey so far. We couldn’t have done it without our funders and partners but, most importantly, we wouldn’t have achieved so much without the courage and commitment of the growing number of advocates around the world who are challenging laws, policies and practices that inappropriately regulate and punish people living with HIV.

Watch HIV Justice Live! which explores the history behind, and impact of, the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation. Hosted by HJN’s founder and Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, the show, From Moment to Movement, featured some of the advocates who were behind the Oslo Declaration: Kim Fangen, Patrick Eba, Michaela Clayton, Ralf Jürgens and Susan Timberlake.

 

Canada: New study examines the production of Canadian media stories about HIV criminalisation

Writing for digital news about HIV criminalization in Canada

For years, HIV activists in Canada have expressed serious concerns about the stigmatizing and sensational way that HIV criminalization is portrayed in the mainstream press. Discourse analyses of the content of news stories about HIV criminalization confirm that news reports of HIV criminal cases rely on sensational language and reproduce negative stereotypes of people living with HIV. This paper contributes to social justice scholarship in the area by building upon studies of news content to uncover how news reports of HIV criminalization are produced in the first place. Through institutional ethnographic interviews with journalists who produce news stories about HIV criminalization, this study brings into view that conditions of convergence journalism make it exceedingly difficult for reporters to disrupt the genre of crime stories about HIV criminalization in which stigmatizing discourses proliferate.

The full study can be accessed here.

Eurasian Women’s AIDS Network releases new compendium on “Women’s Leadership on HIV Decriminalisation”

EWNA launches Women’s Leadership on Decriminalising HIV

The Eurasian Women’s AIDS Network (EWNA) has produced the compendium “Women’s Leadership on HIV Decriminalisation: Experiences of the EECA Region“. The compendium compiles the results of research conducted by the women’s community, examples of documented personal stories and court cases.

All of the collected materials demonstrate how criminalisation of HIV is a global problem and how it is linked to gender-based violence. Experts believe that criminalising laws do not protect women from acquiring HIV but only make them worse off in society.

Such laws make them more vulnerable to HIV-related violence and structural inequalities because

Breastfeeding can be used as a means of direct influence; women living with HIV in discordant couples do not escape harassment due to their status, despite the indeterminate burden and voluntary consent of the partner in the relationship, confidential medical information is often shared with law enforcement authorities.
HIV criminalisation in the EECA region is directly linked to other types of criminalisation (drug use and sex work), the combination of which exacerbates the problem of rights violations and violence against women living with HIV.

The compendium addresses the following issues and themes:

What harms does the criminalisation of HIV cause?
Why are women more vulnerable?
Findings from studies and comparative analysis of court sentences.
Documented cases of blackmail of women living with HIV
The role of the media in the criminalisation of women living with HIV (example of Tajikistan).
HIV and labour law (example from Uzbekistan).
Elimination of vertical transmission and decriminalisation of HIV.

The compendium is available in Russian. It can be downloaded here.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)


ЖСС выпустила сборник «Женское лидерство в вопросах декриминализации ВИЧ»

Евразийская Женская сеть по СПИДу (ЕЖСС) подготовила сборник «Женское лидерство в вопросах декриминализации ВИЧ: опыт региона ВЕЦА». В сборнике собраны результаты исследований, проводимых женским сообществом, примеры задокументированных личных историй и судебных разбирательств.

Все собранные материалы демонстрируют, насколько глобальной проблемой является криминализация ВИЧ и как она связана с гендерным насилием. Экспертки считают, что криминализирующие законы не защищают от заражения ВИЧ, а только ухудшают положение женщин в обществе.

Подобные законы делают их более уязвимыми перед насилием и структурным неравенством в связи с ВИЧ, поскольку:

кормление грудью может использоваться как средство прямого влияния;
женщины с ВИЧ, живущие в дискордантных парах, не избавляются от преследования в связи со статусом, несмотря на неопределяемую нагрузку и добровольное согласие партнера на отношения;
конфиденциальная медицинская информация часто передается в правоохранительные органы.
Криминализация ВИЧ в регионе ВЕЦА напрямую связана с другими видами криминализации (наркозависимость и секс-работа), совокупность которых усугубляет проблему, связанную с нарушением прав и насилием в отношении женщин, живущих с ВИЧ.

В сборнике затронуты следующие вопросы и темы:

Какой вред приносит криминализация ВИЧ?
Почему женщины оказываются в более уязвимом положении?
Результаты исследований и сравнительный анализ судебных приговоров.
Задокументированные случаи шантажа женщин с ВИЧ.
Роль СМИ в криминализации женщин, живущих с ВИЧ (пример Таджикистана).
ВИЧ и трудовое право (пример Узбекистана).
Устранение вертикальной передачи и декриминализация ВИЧ.

Сборник оформлен на русском языке. Скачать его можно здесь.

Help us support you
by completing a short survey on e-Learning and e-Training

Please complete our short survey on e-Learning and e-Training by 11th February

 

You’ll have seen from our first HIV Justice Newsletter of the year that we are excited about various advocacy tools and resources we are working on this year, including our new e-Learning and e-Training platform, to allow for digital organising and advocacy to continue regardless of travel and in-person meeting limitations, making these resources more accessible to more people.

The platform will be used to continue to build and galvanise the global movement to end punitive laws and policies that impact people living with HIV in all their diversity, with a specific focus on the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and/or transmission (HIV criminalisation).

With its accessible online written and video resources, and different types of learning and training sessions, and content in English, French, Russian, and Spanish, the platform will engage a growing community of HIV justice activists and advocates. It will provide timely and accessible education and training that focuses on understanding the issues, to help achieve progressive change in legal and policy environments for people living with HIV at national, regional, and international levels.

To help us ensure we properly achieve these objectives, we want to hear from you – to understand what you would find most useful in an e-Learning platform, and to find out more about your experiences of using e-Learning. So, could you complete this short survey (10-15 minutes) by 11 February 2022.  We’d love to hear from you.

Visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/hivjustice to answer the survey (in English, French, Russian or Spanish) or scan the QR code below.