Our Annual Report 2021
”A Key Force for Change”

Today, with the publication of our Annual Report 2021 we look back at some of the key highlights of last year, as well as look to the future. The report is published by the HIV Justice Foundation, an independent non-profit legal entity registered in the Netherlands as Stichting HIV Justice to specifically serve as the fiscal organisation for the HIV Justice Network (HJN) and other related activities.

In 2021, we were challenged yet again by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which continued to impede our collective ability to organise and likely contributed to a growing acceptance of punitive approaches to public health. Nevertheless, we continued to monitor global trends and developments; develop advocacy tools and resources; brought individuals and organisations together across countries and continents to share experiences, learn, and develop strategic collaboration and campaigning; and amplified the voices of HIV criminalisation survivors and collaborated closely with other social justice movements, to ensure that HIV criminalisation remains high on global, regional and national policy and advocacy agendas.

Kevin Moody, who served as Chair of the Foundation’s Supervisory Board during 2021, said:

“HJN has once again in 2021 demonstrated its ability to impact the fight against HIV criminalisation, as outlined in the Foundation’s annual report. HJN’s technical work addressed the criminalisation of mothers with HIV who breastfeed and molecular HIV surveillance, as well having contributed to UNDP’s Guidance for Prosecutors on HIV-related criminal cases, all of which provide important support for policy makers and advocates around the world. In its convening role, HJN has been able to bring together community-based experts and allies through its flagship Beyond Blame online gathering and the HIV Justice Live! web series during a period where COVID-19 continued to preclude face-to-face meetings. Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, and his team succeeded in continuing operations while developing a new strategic plan to shape the future of its work to curb HIV criminalisation.”

 

HJN was a co-founder and is the co-ordinator of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW) coalition. Much of the work undertaken by HJWW has been funded by the Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks through the HIV Justice Global Consortium. Since 2019, HJN has been the lead grantee of the Consortium of seven partners: ARASA, GNP+, the HIV Legal Network, Positive Women’s Network-USA, SALC and the Sero Project. Throughout the year, we oversaw the distribution of small grants either directly or through our Consortium partners working in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), Francophone Africa, Anglophone Africa, and Latin America and Caribbean.

 

Looking to the future

In June 2021, we published our 2022-26 Strategic Plan. People living with HIV remain firmly at the heart of this strategy. All of our work is designed to contribute towards an environment in which people living with HIV feel safe, empowered and able to enjoy their human rights.

As we moved towards its implementation, we focused on three key organisational development priorities: increasing diversity within our organisation; improving our reach and strengthening our communications; and mobilising resources to support and enhance our work. Primarily supported through a grant from the Robert Carr Fund, we were also fortunate to receive funding from The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

The new Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026 calls on countries to adopt bold new targets to remove “societal and legal impediments to an enabling environment for HIV services”, which includes achieving a goal of fewer than 10% of countries with “punitive laws and policies”, including those that allow for HIV criminalisation. The HIV Justice Network is ready to take on the challenge to support advocates help countries achieve these targets. That’s why we were delighted to receive news in December 2021 that two separate funding applications to the Robert Carr Fund were successful, placing us on firm footing to continue our work to end HIV criminalisation and support advocates pushing for their countries to achieve the Global AIDS Strategy goals.

Richard Elliott, who was appointed as the Foundation’s Chair in March 2022 as Kevin Moody became Treasurer said:

“In just a decade, HJN has made extraordinary contributions to the growing global movement against HIV criminalisation. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a global movement as such without HJN. The important victories against injustice show that resistance is worthwhile! Guided by a new strategic plan, input from advocates and experts from around the world, and the deep expertise and vision of our Executive Director, the HIV Justice Network will continue to be a key force for change in the years ahead.”

 

Download our Annual Report 2021

 

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.

In memoriam: Rosemary Namubiru
HIV criminalisation survivor

Our thoughts this week are with the family and friends of Rosemary Namubiru who passed away last weekend in Kampala, Uganda.

Rosemary was a dedicated nurse as well as a mother and grandmother – and a courageous HIV criminalisation survivor. In 2016, at our Beyond Blame pre-conference to AIDS 2016 in Durban, South Africa, she spoke with great dignity about her horribly unjust experiences at the hands of the criminal legal system and media.

In January 2014, Rosemary was wrongfully accused of intentionally exposing a child to HIV while administering an injection. The child did not acquire HIV. However, the accusations created a media frenzy at a time when Uganda was discussing whether to enact the HIV Prevention and Control Act that, amongst a number of problematic provisions, allows for stringent punishments for the vague ‘crimes’ of attempted and intentional HIV transmission.

The inflammatory media coverage, which included showing her arrest live on television, meant that she was found guilty in the court of public opinion long before her trial, singled out and vilified in the press because of her HIV-positive status.

Originally charged with attempted murder, she was eventually convicted of criminal negligence. However, on appeal, the judge found that her initial three-year sentence was excessive and ordered her release after she served 10 months in prison.

Rosemary was jailed a week after the HIV Prevention and Control Act was passed by parliament. The problematic provisions in the law are currently being challenged as unconstitutional.

Rosemary was supported at the time by several advocacy and human rights organisations including the International Community of Women Living with HIV, Eastern Africa (ICWEA), Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), The National Forum of People Living with HIV in Uganda (NAFOPHANU) and AIDS-Free World. 

Following her release, in a meeting arranged by AIDS-Free World, media editors finally heard her side of the story and apologised to her. ICWEA continued to support Rosemary following her release, and remained in touch until her death.

Rosemary at AIDS 2016. Photo: ABC Radio

In 2017, Rosemary wrote about her experiences for the International AIDS Society, of which she was member.

This experience has totally changed my life. My self-esteem is gone and this has tarnished more than 30 years in the nursing profession, which I loved so much. I still struggle to overcome that fateful day when I woke up in the morning to go and save lives, only to be beaten down by the world.

I now know first-hand that stigma, especially among healthcare workers, is real. I’ve lost everything. I had a job, I was the breadwinner for my family, and I belonged to a community. I would give anything to be able to go back to my old self. I still need support to regain my strength, start generating an income again, and feed my family.

It is my hope that by telling my story it will show the real struggle we face against stigma and criminalisation. I saw it all, I faced it all, and I don’t want anybody else to go through it. Together, we need to fight for others who are experiencing these acts of injustice.

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

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.”

Tajikistan: Imprisoned for living with HIV – A woman’s testimony

“An HIV diagnosis should not be a guilty verdict—it’s just a diagnosis”

Nargis was born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, into a large family. Life was not easy, and she was sent to a boarding school for low-income families. Her favourite subject at school was physical education, excelling at basketball and swimming. She hoped that after graduating from school in 1991 with a diploma in physical education she would continue her studies at a technical school.

However, because of unrest in the country, she couldn’t carry on with her schooling. “I cried for six months, I really wanted to continue my studies, but instead of going to a technical school, my parents married me off. I was not yet 16 years old then,” said Nargis. When she was 17 years old, she gave birth to a son; five years later, while pregnant with her second child, she learned that her husband was involved in drug trafficking, and he was sent to prison.

From that time on, Nargis had to provide for herself and her family on her own. She got a job in a casino. The earnings were good, but it was there that she started taking drugs. “I was a shy girl, so to make me feel relaxed, I used drugs. From there, I became a drug addict. I didn’t even notice how it happened,” she recalled.

She was eventually fired from her job because of her drug-taking and was forced to look for other ways to survive.

Nargis injected drugs for 14 years, but she started on opioid substitution therapy when it was made available in the country. “While I was on methadone, I was hired as a peer counsellor. I worked with drug users, with people living with HIV. I worked as a consultant in several HIV prevention projects,” said Nargis.

Nargis remained on methadone until May 2021. “Last year, I had to stop methadone because I was sent to prison and there was no methadone in prison. It was very hard, I was in the prison hospital for several months, but as a result I got off methadone and, so far, I am holding on.”

Nargis was imprisoned under Article 125 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan, under which it is a criminal offence to infect someone with HIV or to put them at risk of HIV infection. Based on this article, law enforcement agencies initiate criminal cases against people living with HIV just on the basis of the potential threat of HIV transmission or simply just based on their HIV-positive status.

“I have been taking antiretroviral therapy since 2013. I have never interrupted it. I have an undetectable viral load. No one wrote a statement against me. I did not infect anyone. The accusation was made on the basis of a note from a man I knew, because we were dating,” Nargis said.

The legislation does not take into account the informed consent of the other sexual partner, regardless of whether there was a risk of HIV infection, or whether the person living with HIV takes precautions against HIV transmission. In addition, the legislation does not define how someone living with HIV should declare their HIV status. In effect, all people living with HIV who have sex can be held criminally liable.

Nargis explained her shame, “Law enforcement agencies called everyone, doctors, my colleagues, relatives, and told them about my HIV diagnosis, asked what kind of relationship we were in, dishonoured me.”

“Article 162 of the Health Code gives doctors the right to disclose the status of HIV-infected patients at the request of the investigating authorities, and does not contain any justification for this. Some criminal cases under part 1 of Article 125 were initiated after the HIV clinic disclosed information about HIV to law enforcement agencies. During the investigation and trial, the defendants’ right to confidentiality regarding their HIV status is not ensured, since investigators, officials, court clerks and judges can request medical information in accordance with the provisions of the Health Code without any specific conditions,” said Larisa Aleksandrova, a lawyer.

Nargis is now free, but she said that she was just lucky. “I was released under an amnesty in connection with the 30th anniversary of the republic.”

She is out of prison, but there are still dozens of other people convicted under Article 125. Now that everyone knows that she is living with HIV, Nargis is ready to fearlessly fight for the right to live, work and love, despite her HIV status.

Nargis continues to work as a volunteer peer consultant on HIV prevention. She has many plans, but the main goal that she is striving for is the revision of articles criminalizing HIV in Tajikistan.

“I always say that there should be more information about HIV, about people living with HIV, so that they don’t fear us the way they do now. Now everything has changed, there is treatment, there is prevention. An HIV diagnosis should not be a guilty verdict—it’s just a diagnosis.”

Most countries in the eastern Europe and central Asia region have criminal penalties and various types of punishment, including imprisonment, for concealing a source of HIV infection, for putting someone at risk of HIV or for transmitting HIV. HIV criminalization disproportionately affects marginalized populations, especially women. Women are more likely to find out their HIV status when accessing health care, such as for pregnancy, and are more likely to be criminalized and punished.

“We know for certain that laws that criminalize HIV are counterproductive, undermining rather than supporting efforts to prevent new HIV infections. We hope that by consolidating the efforts of governments and public organizations it will be possible to revise outdated laws in the near future, taking into account the latest data on HIV, which will allow people living with HIV, or those who are most at risk of infection, to be open in their relationships with medical organizations, to disclose their HIV status and use affordable medical services,” said Eleanora Hvazdziova, Director, a.i., of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Belarus: Eurasian Women’s AIDS Network submits list of issues on the implementation of CEDAW as it relates to women living with HIV

List of Issues on the implementation of the CEDAW by the Republic of Belarus  as it relates to women living with HIV submitted for the consideration at the 83rd Pre-Sessional Working Group of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Geneva, Switzerland, 28 February – 4 March 2022

Prepared by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS

  1. The Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS brings together activists and women-led organizations from 12 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia to improve access to healthcare services for women living with HIV and vulnerable to HIV, to protect them from violence, and provide inclusive involvement of them in public debate, on which their lives and health depend.
  2. This submission focuses on the following issues – harmful effects of the legally enshrined criminal prosecution of women living with HIV (criminalization of HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission), ministerial and inter-agency practices that exacerbate the situation of women living with HIV, women who use drugs, diagnosis disclosure, violence against women.

The full submission is available for download in English and in Russian from the UN Treaty Body Database.

 

 

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.

[Update]US: New Jersey Governor signs new law repealing old HIV criminalisation statute

New Jersey Repeals Outdated HIV Crime Laws and Fights Stigma

The new law “is a step in the right direction toward reforming the system” regarding HIV and STI prosecutions in New Jersey.

In January, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that decriminalizes sexual activity by people living with HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in specific instances. What’s more, the law tackles HIV stigma because it requires that whenever a person is prosecuted under appropriate circumstances, the names of both the accused and the accuser be kept confidential.

The summary of the legislation—S3707/A5673—reads: “Repeals statute criminalizing sexual penetration while infected with venereal disease or HIV under certain circumstances; requires that in prosecutions for endangering another by creating substantial risk of transmitting infectious disease, name of defendant and other person be kept confidential.”

The legislation’s primary sponsors included Senators Joe Vitale (D–Middlesex) and M. Teresa Ruiz (D–Essex) and Assembly Members Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joann Downey, according to a press release from Governor Murphy.

“Unfortunately, over the years, there has been a culture of criminally targeting HIV-positive individuals in general, rather than targeting those who intentionally expose others. The criminal code is meant to punish actions that harm others, not discriminate against people living with a chronic health condition,” Senator Ruiz said in the press release. “Signing this piece of legislation into law is a step in the right direction toward reforming the system.”

HIV criminalization refers to the use of laws to target people who have HIV—notably African-AmericanLatino and LGBTQ populations—and punishing them because of their HIV status, not because of their actions. Under outdated laws, people with HIV can be sentenced to prison in cases where HIV was not transmitted, simply for allegedly not disclosing their status.

Of note, repealing HIV laws does not mean that people can’t be held accountable for intentionally transmitting HIV. Other laws may apply to the situation.

“Hyacinth AIDS Foundation applauds Governor Murphy signing S3707/A-5673, which would repeal New Jersey specific HIV criminalization statute. New Jersey’s HIV criminal law was based on stigma and fear, rather than modern science,” Axel Torres Marrero, Hyacinth’s senior director of public policy and prevention, said in the press release. “In 2022 it no longer reflects the current science of treatment and transmission of HIV. Today we recognize that no one should be singled out and punished solely on the basis of their HIV status. Taken together with the attorney general’s recent guidance that only a clear, successful intent to do harm should be punished, today New Jersey acknowledges that health care policy and the fight to end the AIDS epidemic must be anchored in the updated science of treatment and transmission of HIV.”

Marrero was referring to HIV-related guidance issued in October by Andrew Buck, who was the acting attorney general at the time. When deciding whether to charge someone under the state’s HIV crime laws, Buck directed prosecutors to consider three factors:

  • Whether the individual forced or coerced their partner to engage in sexual activity;
  • Whether the individual engaged in sexual activity for the purpose of transmitting HIV to their partner; and/or
  • Whether the individual was adhering to a medically appropriate HIV treatment plan at the time of the sexual activity.

“It is virtually impossible,” the guidance states, “to imagine a scenario where it would be appropriate for a prosecutor to charge an individual…when that person’s HIV viral load was undetectable at the time of the sexual activity and no aggravating factors existed.”

One of the goals of the new HIV law and the guidance is to base possible prosecutions on updated science, notably that people with HIV who take meds and maintain an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV sexually, a fact referred to as Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, or U=U.

Another goal is to fight HIV stigma and encourage testing and treatment. “For decades, the HIV epidemic has had devastating effects on New Jersey, particularly in our LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color,” the governor said in the press release“Repealing the outdated law will eliminate the stigma and fear associated with testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, encouraging more individuals to be proactive in learning about their health. This new law, coupled with advances in modern science and medicine, will bolster our efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New Jersey.”

In related news, New Jersey also passed a series of harm reduction laws. One allows more syringe exchanges to open; another makes it legal to possess a syringe; and a third creates a review panel to study overdoses.

New Jersey isn’t the only state to decriminalize HIV. Last year, Illinois became the second state to repeal its discriminatory HIV laws (California did so in 2017). And lawmakers in Missouri, Nevada and Virginia have reformed similar laws. For more, see “Breaking HIV Laws: A Roundup of Efforts to Decriminalize HIV.”


Published in Insider NJ on 11/01/2022

Legislation to modernise criminalisation law passed by New Jersey Senate

Senate Passes Vitale-Ruiz Bill to Modernize NJ Statutes Related to HIV/AIDS Transmission

Trenton – In an effort to modernize New Jersey’s statutes related to the transmission of HIV/AIDS and reduce the stigma suffered by individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), legislation sponsored by Senators Joe Vitale and M. Teresa Ruiz that would eliminate crimes that are solely applicable to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and STIs was passed by the Senate.

The bill, S-3707, would repeal current statutes that make it a crime for a person to commit an act of sexual penetration under certain circumstances while knowing that he or she is infected with a venereal disease, HIV, or AIDS. The bill maintains and updates the provisions of the statute that criminalizes endangering another person, therefore maintaining an avenue for prosecution in appropriate cases involving the transmission of non-airborne infectious or communicable diseases, without specifically targeting individuals living with HIV/AIDs and sexually transmitted infections.

“While working with advocates to identify areas to improve our harm reduction system of care, they identified updating these statutes to reflect what we now know about the transmission of certain diseases, especially in light in the advances in treatment, as a huge priority,” said Senator Joe Vitale (D- Middlesex). “The current law serves only to criminalize some of our most vulnerable populations, primarily those with HIV, dismissing what we know about the treatment of HIV and how it is and can be transmitted. I am thankful to the advocates who brought this issue to our attention, not only for leading the way on solid public health policy, but also in serving those in need in New Jersey.”

The current laws in place target individuals based on their HIV/AIDS status, rather than their actions. They disproportionately impact certain communities that are more likely to be living with the virus including members of the LGBTQ+ community, Black and Latinx people and transgender women. The new legislation will work to remove the negative stigma and criminalization that these communities and others currently face.

“This legislation is a step in the right direction of inclusivity and removing the stigmatization that surrounds individuals living with HIV. Over the years, there has been criminalization targeting HIV-positive individuals, rather than those who are intentionally harming others,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “The criminal code is meant to punish actions that harm others, not discriminate against people living with a chronic health condition.”

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of (25-11).