This guide is an evidence-based resource to assist journalists in Canada in reporting responsibly and accurately about alleged HIV non-disclosure and resulting criminal cases.
People living with HIV in Canada can be prosecuted for “aggravated sexual assault” (one of the most serious charges in the Criminal Code) if they don’t tell their sexual partners, in advance of intimate contact, that they have HIV. The criminalization of “HIV non-disclosure” is severe and rooted in stigma: people face charges even in cases where there is little or no risk of transmitting HIV. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and a conviction carries with it a mandatory designation as a sex offender. This approach has been criticized, both domestically and internationally, as being contrary to human rights and principles of public health, including by United Nations experts. Instead of reducing HIV transmission, HIV criminalization is now recognized by many experts as a driver of the epidemic.
There have been dramatic advances in treating and preventing HIV, which have resulted in a gradual change in public discourse and understanding. But there’s still a lot of misinformation. Media can play a vital role by modernizing the discussions we’re having about HIV and by reporting about HIV non-disclosure in an evidence-based and responsible way that doesn’t perpetuate stigma.
THE National AIDS Trust has moved to quell fears that anyone could contract HIV via bloodied clothing after a woman was fined for threatening to infect a police officer in Newtown last week.
This week C. pleaded guilty to assaulting an emergency worker when she appeared at Welshpool Magistrates Court.
The 35-year-old was brought in to custody at Newtown Police Station on August 26 covered in blood – which she claimed belonged to someone else – and became abusive, eventually stripping and throwing the bloodied clothes at custody sergeant Grace Coburn, telling her the clothes had hepatitis and HIV on them.
Sgt Coburn was told by C. that she probably also “had Covid as well”.
But the trust – the UK charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV – has responded to the “misinformation” presented by the case, moving to reassure people that HIV cannot be transmitted in this way.
Danny Beales, head of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, said: “It’s disappointing to read that HIV is still being used as a threat in 2020.
“The stigma and misinformation that surrounds HIV mean that cases like this are far too common. We would reassure readers that there is no risk from HIV on bloodied clothing as the virus is very fragile and does not last long outside the body.
“Also, the majority of people living with HIV in the UK are on effective treatment which means they cannot pass on the virus in any way.”
C. was given a £200 fine and will pay compensation of £50 to the officer. She will also pay £85 costs.
US: Interview with JoAnn Wypijewski on the Nushawn Williams’s case, a “signpost on the road to the criminalization of HIV”
Sex panics keep happening because they tap into Americans’ deepest fears about the need to protect innocents from the threat of evil — fears that are endemic among the Left as well as the Right. Meanwhile, lives are destroyed in the process.
JW – It’s a social eruption fanned by the media and characterized by alarm over innocence imperiled. That innocence, historically and stereotypically, has belonged to white women and children. The sex panic always involves some form of bad actor. Usually the bad man, the predator, is a lurking, mutable, social presence, a menace against which the population can be mobilized. Anthropologist Roger Lancaster calls this a “poisoned solidarity.” You can go back to Birth of a Nation. You can go back to the white slavery panic of the 1880s. Or a more modern period: the 1950s, where the Red Scare was a form of moral panic, and there was a “lavender panic” at the same time.
“Superpredators,” the priests scandal, the Satanic panic — all have featured a tremendous amount of media attention and repetition of a storyline that cannot be questioned: a narrative of good versus evil where the evil one is out there doing something to the good, and the evil authorizes all the bad that the good can do.Anything can be done to the bad man. And those doing it can feel a tremendous sense of vindication and social validation. That has accomplished something very practical: it has helped to build the prison state. According to a terrific book called The War on Sex, sex crimes are the fastest-growing cause of people being imprisoned. As leftists, we have to be concerned about that. But it’s also culturally developed a turn of mind that there are some people against whom anything is justified.
LF – Let’s talk about one of those people. Tell us about Nushawn Williams.
JW – Nushawn Williams was a young man from Brooklyn in the 1990s who was a petty drug dealer involved in various criminal activities, who, along with a number of other young people at the time, went upstate to sell drugs and to have what would be probably a better life. He went to the town of Jamestown, about seventy miles southeast of Buffalo, where I grew up. He was very popular with women and very successful as an entrepreneur. He was arrested at one point and tested for HIV, and he was told he was HIV-positive.
Perhaps he didn’t believe it or was in denial — we don’t know — but he continued to have sex with young women. A bunch of them turned up HIV-positive, and the state did something it had never done before. It took his mugshot and put it on a poster that said, “Public health threat, warning, warning, danger. If you’ve had sex with this man, come down immediately for a test.” And then it counseled those looking at this poster that their identity would be completely confidential. Of course, they had just busted his confidentiality! But the fact is that Williams did everything that the state wanted. When he was told he was HIV-positive, they asked him, “Who did you have sex with?” He gave them all the names.
LF – There’s a contemporary resonance here. As we’re rediscovering now with COVID-19, contact tracing is hard because people often do not cooperate with the authorities to the extent that he did. Nushawn Williams was a model participant in this process.
JW – He was a model participant!
This case was a signpost on the road to the criminalization of HIV, a blaring alarm: “There is an HIV predator among you.” He was on the cover of all the tabloids and the New York Times, and on CNN and in the world press.And all the stories were the same. He was a “lethal Lothario.” He was the devil himself. He was a monster, he was a demon, he was an HIV predator, and this was just declared. These young women were all interviewed. They’d said a variety of things which came down to, “I thought I was in love. He gave me gifts. I thought he would be around. I’m so sad and broken now.” And that was pretty much the story, except for one woman who said, “I don’t know, I won’t join in on this. I loved him once. I’m not going to demonize him.” This woman was eighteen years old.I thought, “She’s the one I want to talk to.” And I met her in jail. She was in jail for breaking probation. And then I met some other people who either had been with him or had been in the same world as he was, and I explored that.The whole town was suddenly embracing young women who it never had any interest in, at all. They were “trash.” I mean, I would not call them that, but that’s how they were perceived. But suddenly they were the flower of Jamestown. Suddenly they were innocent girls who had been defiled by this awful monster, this animal, this predator. And suddenly they were humanized. They were humanized as victims.Some had no way of certainly knowing [that they got the virus from Williams]. And the authorities were completely uninterested in how he may have contracted the virus.I always think of every story I do as a class story. That’s my background. Before I started writing about sex, I was mostly writing about labor and class and unions and union politics, but always, I was interested in the people involved and their particularities. I couldn’t talk to Williams. [His lawyers declined to make him available for interviews.] But I was interested in the world of the women and the world of the town. After that story appeared, people in Jamestown were upset. They said, “You make it out as if the whole town is terrible.”
LF – Well, it did sound like a depressing place, but you also make clear that it was no more depressing than many other American cities.
JW – The guy who became mayor, Sam Teresi — he was then the development director — was straightforward about what deindustrialization had done to the country. This was the mid-’90s, but while people tend to see deindustrialization as an effect of NAFTA, in that part of New York state and in New York City, it had all started much sooner, in the late ’60s. Then, by the late 1970s, everything starts shutting down. So, in Buffalo, where I grew up, where my uncle worked in the steel mill, my father worked in a factory as a tool and die maker — for the company that invented the windshield wiper — all of us were affected. Catastrophe hit these towns and these cities. Teresi was saying, even with the best plans that we have here in Jamestown trying to make something happen, no one’s going to make an oasis in the desert of deindustrialized America.
I think that’s pretty heavy, and I think people ought to have paid attention to that part of it, because why were these guys involved as [drug drealers]? There were no other avenues, certainly, for good wages. And the young women, if they weren’t in the business, they were working in screw factory making $6 an hour, and that’s the reality. And so sex in that context, and sex with Nushawn Williams in that context, was not the worst deal. He presented the best deal. And that should raise questions for all of us.It should also, as in every story, force us to recognize the humanity of every actor. That’s what I’ve tried to do. My whole career is to look at, even people who’ve done the worst thing, and try to see them not as monsters, not as demons, but products of a culture, of a society. They were once some little bitty baby in some mother’s arms, and something brought them to some point where, say, they kill Matthew Shepard out at the fence, or they do something heinous to prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Figures in the book exist within historical time and within social, cultural, and economic time. Their choices are confined the way all our choices are confined. There was no way for a Nushawn Williams to get a fair shake in this situation, He’d been declared a monster. He’d been declared public enemy. He’d been declared a criminal and had to be put away, and the state didn’t have particular laws criminalizing HIV, but it found other means. He was convicted of having sex with two underage women (statutory rape) and served twelve years in prison. Hard time.When he got out, the state decided that it was going to bring a case for civil commitment against him and declared him a “sexually dangerous” person. Then there was the kangaroo-type trial to prove that, which occurs all over this country. He was found indeed to be a sexually dangerous person, not for what he did, but for what he might do, and he joined some six thousand other people who are confined to mental institutions, detained indefinitely, without hope of getting out, supposedly for “treatment.”I think we need to look at the social mechanisms that organize consent for punishment.What’s always disturbing to me is that this ecstatic, panicky, moralizing approach is also embraced by the Left, by people who might shun, for instance, the Times reporting on terrorism.
LF – Yes, what about the sex exception on the Left? It seems especially jarring now, when ideas like the abolition of prisons and of police have so much traction, and restorative justice is a mainstream concept. The idea of due process would be taken for granted if someone was accused of murder, yet even people on the Left still demand the blood of anyone accused of a sexual violation.
JW – If we’re serious about culture and its formative power, then you have to look at the dominant culture that is the cauldron of current damaged life. We have to be serious about that, because it does form what James Baldwin called the “habits of thought” that reinforce and sustain the habits of power. I mean, toward authoritarianism. How we resist those habits of thought means separating yourself — or trying to — from them. That’s the work of a lifetime, because the propagandizing power of the culture is nonstop.
ABOUT THE AUTHORJoAnn Wypijewski is a journalist and the author of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo: Essays on Sex, Authority and the Mess of Life.ABOUT THE INTERVIEWERLiza Featherstone is a columnist for Jacobin, a freelance journalist, and the author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart.
HIV criminalisation presentations and posters at AIDS2020
There were a number of presentations, mostly e-posters, at AIDS2020:Virtual that focused on HIV criminalisation. We have compiled them all below given that access was (and remains) limited.
The only oral presentations specifically covering HIV criminalisation were delivered by HIV Justice Network’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard, presenting in three pre-recorded video sessions.
Below you will find the presentation ‘Bringing Science to Justice’ for the IAPAC 90-90-90 Targets Update, produced for the session, ‘Creating Enabling Environments for Optimal HIV Responses’. This eleven minute presentation, that also includes a number of video clips, covers the following:
The detrimental implications of HIV criminalisation on human rights and public health
The impact of the ‘Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law’
Lessons learned from HIV criminalisation on punitive responses to COVID-19
Conclusion: It is more critical than ever to commit to, and respect, human rights principles; ground public health measures in scientific evidence; and establish partnerships, trust, and co-operation between scientists, law- and policymakers and the most impacted communities.
Update (29 July): During a California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers virtual satellite session, Dr. Ayako Miyashita Ochoa of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Department of Social Welfare, interviewed activist Marco Castro-Bojorquez about the modernisation of California’s HIV-specific criminal law as an example of of evidence-based policymaking.
There were a number of poster presentations that also focused on HIV criminalisation in the following countries/jurisdictions:
PEF 1737 United States
PEF 1738 England & Wales
PEF 1739 Australia
PEF 1740 Niger
PEF 1742 Malawi
PEF 1781 Florida, USA
PEF 1794 Uganda
PEF 1841 Taiwan
The abstracts are below. Click on the title to download the pdf of the poster.
BACKGROUND: In 2017, 36 states had laws penalizing persons with HIV (PWH) for sexual or no-risk behavior (e.g., spitting). Research shows these laws do not impact sexual risk behaviors or diagnosis rates. Citizens likely are unaware of these laws; we do not expect direct behavioral effects. However, laws reflect states’ values and may mirror community attitudes towards PWH. Understanding how structural factors relate to stigma is important for stopping HIV stigma. METHODS: National HIV Behavioral Surveillance used venue-based sampling methods to interview men who have sex with men (MSM) in 23 U.S. cities from June-December 2017. Using Center for HIV Law and Policy reports, we categorized states’ HIV-specific laws as of June 2017. We compared MSM”s perceptions of community attitudes towards PWH between MSM living in states with versus without HIV laws. We obtained adjusted prevalence ratios using log-linked Poisson models assessing the relationship between law and four community stigma attitudes (discrimination, rights, friendship, punishment), which we then compared between black MSM in states with versus without laws. RESULTS: Two-thirds of MSM lived in states with HIV-specific laws. MSM in states with laws were more likely to report black race (38% versus 15%), poverty (23% versus 12%), or incarceration (25% versus 19%). Multivariable models found laws were related to perceived community beliefs that PWH “got what they deserved” (aPR=1.13, 95% CI: 1.03-1.24), but not other attitudes. Compared to black MSM in states without laws, black MSM in states with laws were more likely to believe persons in their community would discriminate against PWH (64% versus 50%), not support PWH’s rights (25% versus 16%), not be friends with PWH (24% versus 13%), and believe HIV was deserved punishment (32% versus 22%). CONCLUSIONS: MSM in states with HIV laws were disproportionately from marginalized groups. Laws were related to perceived community attitudes that HIV was deserved punishment; understanding specific stigma attitudes can inform interventions. Although black MSM reported high community stigma overall, stigma was significantly higher for black MSM in states with HIV laws. States may consider repealing or reforming HIV laws and focusing on effective prevention efforts to End the HIV Epidemic.
BACKGROUND: In England and Wales it is possible to be prosecuted for the sexual transmission of infection under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 or the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. After the first prosecutions in 2003, National AIDS Trust (NAT) successfully advocated for legal guidance for prosecutors and worked with the Crown Prosecution Guidance (CPS) to develop this. DESCRIPTION: In 2018 NAT requested that the guidance be updated. In January 2019 the CPS shared a draft of their revised guidance with NAT, who then coordinated a joint response from NAT and other key stakeholders. This successfully ensured that the new guidance reflects medical developments such as Undetectable=Untransmittable and clinical guidance. Developments in case law have led the CPS to take the view that HIV/STI status deception may be capable of vitiating consent to sex. NAT is concerned that this could result in people who lie about their HIV status being prosecuted for rape or sexual assault, even with safeguards used and no transmission occurring. NAT prepared a briefing articulating legal, policy and public health arguments against this position, and presented it at a meeting with the CPS. As a result the CPS have added several caveats, but we still believe their position to be unacceptable and discussions are ongoing. LESSONS LEARNED: The successes we have had in improving the guidance demonstrate the importance of long-standing proactive engagement, relationship-building and collaboration. Collaborating with a range of key stakeholders including clinicians and lawyers enabled NAT to leverage wider authority and expertise. However, the issue of HIV status deception has illustrated the implications for HIV of legal developments in related but not directly transferable areas. Confidence in our understanding of the law and persistence in making our arguments heard has been crucial in ensuring ongoing engagement on this issue. CONCLUSIONS: The updated guidance will help to ensure that prosecutions for reckless or intentional transmission are conducted in a way that minimises harm to both individuals and the wider community. Regarding the issue of HIV status deception, possible next steps include securing parliamentary engagement, pro bono legal opinions, and further representations from local government and public health bodies.
BACKGROUND: A significant portion of people convicted of HIV transmission in Australia are not Australian citizens. Due to not holding citizenship, those convicted of serious criminal offences (which includes facing a prison term of 12 months or more), are at risk of having their visas cancelled and being removed from Australia. The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) has represented a number of these clients in both their criminal and subsequent immigration proceedings to assist these clients in preventing their removal from Australia. DESCRIPTION: Where a person is not an Australian citizen and commits a criminal offence they are at risk of detention and removal from Australia. In two recent case studies of people with HIV convicted of HIV transmission, following the completion of their custodial sentences steps were then taken to cancel their visas and place them into immigration detention. Both clients had their visas cancelled and had to take steps to appeal the decisions. Part of the reason for the cancellation was the perception of ongoing risk to the Australian community. Neither client had been convicted of intentionally transmitting HIV to their sexual partner. HALC continues to represent one of the clients mentioned and the other has now exhausted all appeal options. LESSONS LEARNED: There are often many and varied reasons for HIV non disclosure and, from HALC”s experiences, following criminal and public health interventions it is unlikely that a person with HIV would continue to place their sexual partners at risk of contracting HIV. Decision makers in migration proceedings appear to be unwilling to accept that a person with HIV would no longer place their sexual partner at risk of HIV transmission as the decision makers note in their decisions that they there remains a risk to the community. CONCLUSIONS: The outcomes of these cases demonstrates the need for ongoing advocacy and law reform in the removal of offences for HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, except where actual intent can be established to a criminal law standard. The cases also demonstrate the ongoing need for continued robust representation of those, often vulnerable migrants, who are facing visa cancellation.
BACKGROUND: To effectively fight against HIV, Niger adopted Law No. 2007-08 of April 30, 2007 related on HIV prevention, care and control. This law included problematic provisions, including the criminalization of exposure, HIV transmission, and the non-disclosure of HIV to the sexual partner. Actually, PLWHIV continue to be victims of the application of the provisions criminalizing the transmission of HIV through several criminal prosecution cases in 2017. DESCRIPTION: In June 2018, 13 civil society organizations created the “National Coalition for the Decriminalization of HIV in Niger”. This one benefited from the technical and financial support of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE. Its advocacy objectives, by 2021, are to : repeal of offenses criminalizing exposure and transmission of HIV ; research and disseminate reliable and convincing data on the impact of HIV criminalization on access to HIV-related services. Since its creation, the Coalition has carried out the following activities: National workshop for consulting civil society stakeholders on the exposure, transmission and non-disclosure of HIV in Niger; The development of the Memorandum of December 20, 2018 entitled ‘exploring ways and means to resolve the problems of legal proceedings against people living with HIV in order to reduce to zero the new infections, deaths and discrimination linked to AIDS; Organization of several advocacy meetings during the ‘zero discrimination’ day (March, 2019) for public decision-makers and partners. LESSONS LEARNED: Judicial police officers and magistrates have to exercise greater caution when considering a criminal prosecution, and in particular, carefully assess the latest scientific data on the risks of transmission and the consequences of the infection; National AIDS Control Program needs a comprehensive assessment of the application of criminal legislation on the transmission, exposure and non-disclosure of HIV status in order to measure its impact on the effectiveness of national response. CONCLUSIONS: The criminalization of HIV transmission undermines public health efforts and does not take into account the reality of PLWHIV and especially women who are not always able to disclose their HIV status without fear of reprisals or violence, or to impose the wearing a condom. The threat of possible criminal prosecution only increases their vulnerability.
BACKGROUND: Building on the work of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and in order to promote an enabling environment for achieving the 90-90-90 targets, UNDP has supported regional-and national-level work on removing legal barriers to accessing HIV services in sub-Saharan Africa. Covering over 20 countries, this work consists of regional-level capacity building for duty-bearers and rights-holders from the different countries and in-country activities tailored to local realities. DESCRIPTION: In 2019/20, we evaluated the impacts of this work through a review of project documents and key informant interviews with stakeholders including civil society representatives, government officials, and UNDP staff, and conducted an in-depth case study in Malawi. LESSONS LEARNED: Participation in regional spaces empowered national-level stakeholders in their country level work. A participatory legal environment assessment (LEA), jointly owned by government and civil society, served as the starting point and the resulting document, providing an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of HIV-related national laws and policies, has served as a cornerstone for subsequent activities. For example, national advocacy efforts informed by the LEA, and participation by the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on HIV in regional activities, were key to shaping a revised HIV law to better align with international human rights law. The new law has led to the reform of the institutional framework for the national HIV response. Judges participated in regional judges’ fora where they could request information on HIV-related science, discuss lived experiences with key populations’ representatives and hear about how legal issues were being addressed across the region. Lawyers from across the region took part in joint training. After one such training, and with technical support from regional partners to create a strong case, a lawyer chose to appeal the conviction of a woman under Malawi’s law criminalizing HIV transmission. The presiding judge had attended regional judges’ fora and, drawing on a firm understanding of HIV transmission dynamics, overturned the original ruling. CONCLUSIONS: A mix of regional and national level activities allows for tailoring of activities to national contexts while also providing space for peer networking and support where ‘difficult’ issues might more easily be discussed.
BACKGROUND: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2016, 108,003 people live with HIV (PLHIV) in Florida, which also has the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the country. Numerous complexities worsen Florida’s HIV risk environment, including sex work, human trafficking, injection drug use, and sex tourism. These topics are often bases for HIV-related arrests that journalists cover. HIV criminalization describes statutes that criminalize otherwise legal conduct or that enhance penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s positive HIV status. METHODS: This study employed a systematic review of Florida news articles on HIV-related arrests published between 2009-2019. Through qualitative content analysis, our study analyzed how race, gender, and journalistic tone coalesce in reports of HIV-related arrests. RESULTS: A 2018 report from the Williams Institute indicated that white Floridian women are primarily arrested for HIV-related crimes. The systematic review found zero news reports on HIV-related arrests of white Floridian women, and only one article identified a female perpetrator whose race was undisclosed. Sixty-four other articles reported solely on the HIV-related arrests of men, predominantly black men. We identified two categories of articles where HIV was either central to the arrest, or the person’s HIV-positive status was reported but exhibited little pertinence to the arrest. CONCLUSIONS: Journalistic and police reporting behaviors risk inadvertently stigmatizing PLHIV at a time when public awareness of HIV depends on perceptions of HIV. This information will be used to shape equitable local nonprofit campaigns for community prevention, and HIV decriminalization efforts, while also combating the perpetuation of HIV misinformation.
BACKGROUND: The purpose of the research: To assess the compliance of the Uganda HIV and AIDS Control and Prevention Act, 2014 (the Act) with international human rights law standards.
Problem: In 2014, the Government of Uganda enacted a law to control and prevent HIV and AIDS. However, human rights advocates contest that the law contains provisions that don”t comply with international human rights law standards. METHODS: Study period: August 2014 – August 2015 Study design: Qualitative design. Data collection: The study used a document analysis method. Method of analysis: The study identified international human rights law standards related to HIV and AIDS and used them as benchmarks for the review, analysis and synthesis of the literature. RESULTS: The study established that: The Act carries provisions that comply with international human rights law standards. These include HIV counselling, testing, and treatment; state responsibility in HIV and AIDS control; the establishment of the HIV and AIDS Trust Fund; HIV-related human biomedical research; and prohibition of discrimination in various settings on grounds of HIV status. The Act also contains provisions that are not compliant with international human rights law standards. These include mandatory HIV testing, disclosure without consent, criminalization of actual and attempted HIV transmission, and criminal penalties for vaguely defined conduct. The Act lacks provisions that would make it more effective in controlling and preventing HIV and AIDS. These include commitments by the state to be accountable for its obligations stated in the Act; definition of what constitutes discrimination in various settings; and addressing challenges such as the causes of discrimination, inadequate professional human resources at health facilities, lack of HIV-friendly services in health facilities, and unregulated informal sector in complying with the law. CONCLUSIONS: The study identified the compliance and non-compliance of the Act to international human rights law standards. It made recommendations to the Government of Uganda, organisations of people living with HIV and AIDS, organisations that advocate for human rights, and national human rights institutions, on the need to eliminate, revise and add some provisions in the Act to create an enabling legal environment that conforms with international human rights law.
BACKGROUND: Taiwan ranks top amongst the most progressive Asian countries, including being the first to pass marriage equality in Asia. Yet, stigma and discrimination of certain sub-populations, specifically people living with HIV (PLHIV) continue to prevail, as reflected in the Article 21 of HIV special law which overly criminalizes HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. METHODS: Using qualitative and quantitative approaches, Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association (PRAA) of Taiwan makes a case on how the current criminal justice system in Taiwan adapt the narrative of ‘HIV as a weapon’ to prevent PLHIV from asserting their rights. RESULTS:Article 21 states that individuals with knowledge of their HIV-positive status, by concealing the fact, engage in unsafe sex with others or share injection syringes, diluted fluids, and thus infect others, shall be sentenced for 5 to 12 years. Data showed over 30 cases were identified from 2012 to 2019, the majority of prosecutions were associated with sexual activities. However, unsafe sex was often defined exclusively with use of condom, and the court rarely recognized scientific advancements in antiretroviral therapy and suppressed viral load. Cases included: prosecution from ex-partner whom knew defendant’s HIV status before their relationship; state prosecution without plaintiff by turning 14 HIV-positive witnesses into defendants; 13-year incarceration despite medical expert’s testimony on the unlikelihood of HIV transmission. Those who haven’t been prosecuted continued to face both physical and emotional health threats, such as a woman threaten by her admirer to disclose her status if she turns him down. Bias and prejudice, worsen by difficulties in proving self-disclosure or condom use commonly resulted in convictions. CONCLUSIONS:Article 21 and out-of-date judicial interpretation of HIV transmission risks gravely deprive the rights of PLHIV and further perpetuates stigma against PLHIV and affected communities through special criminal law on HIV. There’s a strong case to be made for abolishing Article 21 under the Constitution of Taiwan and the International Bill of Human Rights. Training and support on HIV advancements shall be given to all members of judicial and criminal law system to further inform any application of criminal law in cases related to HIV.
Watch all the videos of Beyond Blame @HIV2020 – our “perfectly executed…deftly curated, deeply informative” webshow
“We have been being battling this fight for many years. Since the start of the HIV epidemic we as gay men, as gay women, as queers, as transgender people, as sex workers, as people using drugs, have been persecuted by the criminal law. And I’m here to say, “Enough! Enough!
We have achieved a great deal with our movement, with the HIV Justice Network. We have achieved a great deal in conscientizing law makers, law givers and the public. It is now time for us to join in unison to demand the end of these stigmatising, retrograde, unproductive, hurtful, harmful laws.
It is a long struggle we’ve engaged in. And it’s one that has hurt many of us. Some of us here today, some of us listening in, some of us who have spoken, have felt the most brutal brush of the law. They have been imprisoned, unjustly prosecuted, unjustly convicted, and unjustly sent away.
HIV is not a crime. But there is more to it. Criminalising HIV, criminalising the transmission or exposure of HIV, as many countries on my own beautiful continent Africa do, is not just stupid and retrograde. It impedes the most important message of the HIV epidemic now, which is that this epidemic is manageable. I’ve been on antiretroviral treatment now for very nearly 23 years. My viral load has been undetectable for more than 20.
We can beat this, but we have to approach this issue as public health issue. We have to approach it rationally and sensibly, and without stigma, and without targeting people, and without seeking to hurt and marginalise people.We’ve made calamitous mistakes with the misapplication of the criminal law over the last hundred years, in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. We continue to make a calamitous mistake in Africa and elsewhere by misusing the criminal law against queer people like myself. We make a huge mistake by misusing the criminal law against people with HIV.
Let us rise today and say, “Enough!”
How is the Expert Consensus Statement bringing science to justice?
Authored by 20 of the world’s leading HIV scientists, and endorsed by more than 70 additional expert scientists, as well as IAPAC, IAS and UNAIDS, the Expert Consensus Statement described current evidence on HIV transmission, treatment effectiveness and forensics so that HIV-related science may be better understood in criminal law contexts.
The Expert Consensus Statement was the end result of a multi-year process developed by a partnership comprising the International AIDS Society (IAS), the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee.
The HIV Justice Network has now published an interim scoping report, written by HJN’s Senior Policy Analyst Sally Cameron, that explores the impact of the Expert Consensus Statement in the two years since its publication. It is now available in English and French (see bottom of page for download links).
The report concludes that the Expert Consensus Statement is meeting both its primary aim (to support defence arguments in HIV criminalisation cases) and its secondary aim (supporting lobbying for law and policy reform) in many jurisdictions. But it also found that the process of developing and promoting the content of the Expert Consensus Statement has delivered additional benefits that further support advocacy efforts to end HIV criminalisation.
In summary, the Expert Consensus Statement is being used to:
Assist HIV criminalisation defence arguments and strategic litigation, changing courts’ understanding of transmission risks associated with HIV and the effectiveness of modern treatments.
Shape advocacy for law and policy reform, including mobilising stakeholders to lobby for reform, delivering law and policy reform, improving legal and judicial practice, facilitating community advocates’ access to government and judicial bodies, and gaining support from public health bodies and customary and religious leaders.
Inform scientific and medical thinking, including being cited in many peer reviewed articles and in scientific and medical press, being hosted on the sites of scientific/medical/academic organisations, and being ranked the #1 JIAS article to date.
Develop stronger relationships that cross silos and advance capacity, enabling efficient and informal communications between partners to rapidly move projects forward, with Expert Consensus Statement authors supporting community organisations by assisting in defence cases, answering ad hoc questions and co-authoring abstracts, presentations and articles.
Disseminate accurate, positive messages about people living HIV and the issue of HIV criminalisation, including facilitating keynote addresses and presentations at notable conferences and meetings, and generating global mainstream, community and social media. Ultimately, interest in the Expert Consensus Statement has elevated the global conversation about HIV criminalisation, with co-ordinated messaging translating into a powerful positive narrative in many sites.
A new study published this month by a group of leading Canadian social science academics provides damning evidence of the extraordinary over-representation of Black and Black immigrant male defendants in news reporting of Canadian HIV criminalisation cases.
Eric Mykhalovskiy and Colin Hastings from York University, Toronto; Chris Sanders from Lakehead University, Thunder Bay; and Laura Bisaillon from the University of Toronto Scarborough, analysed 1680 English-language articles published between 1989 and 2015.
“The result is a type of popular racial profiling in which HIV non-disclosure is treated as a crime of Black men who are represented as dangerous, hypersexual foreigners who threaten the health and safety of the public and, more broadly, the imagined Canadian nation.”
The study is important for more than its quantitative findings, as it also considers the role of the media in the construction of public perception.
The researchers argue that media reporting involves a process of “recontextualization,” which occurs when speech is selected and moved from one place (e.g. a court) and fitted into another for a different purpose (e.g. a media story). In other words, they say, information is “selectively reported and repurposed into news stories”.
Their analysis found that in media reporting of HIV criminalisation cases, ‘whiteness’ became a neutral position. This usually meant that when a person was white their ethnicity or immigration status was rarely, if ever, mentioned.
For Black men living with HIV, however, the researchers found that the reporting was racialised, depicting such men as morally blameworthy and discussing them in terms of their “immigration status, hypersexuality, and other forms of racialised difference”.
Consequently, they argue, Black men living with HIV are depicted in these news reports not only as a threat to individual complainants, but also as a threat to Canadian society.
The researchers also discussed how news media reporting routinely involves forms of writing that silence people facing HIV-related criminal charges. Their experiences are rarely heard which, they summise, is likely due to reporters’ decisions about who to quote, as well as defendants being discouraged by their laywers to publicly comment on their cases.
Consequently, people living with HIV involved in HIV criminalisation cases are only spoken about, and their lives are only known about within the context of crime stories.
The authors hope their analysis will help advocates “to intervene in popular news coverage of HIV non-disclosure”, urging the use of counter-narratives emphasising how HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission should be seen as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue.
The profound silencing of Black immigrant men in newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure suggests the need to support strategies that create an affirmative presence in mainstream media for Black men living with HIV.
Eric Mykhalovskiy, Chris Sanders, Colin Hastings & Laura Bisaillon (2020) Explicitly racialised and extraordinarily over-represented: Black immigrant men in 25 years of news reports on HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada, Culture, Health & Sexuality, DOI: 10.1080/13691058.2020.1733095
Automatic translation via Deepl.com. For original article in French, please scroll down.
Spit and HIV: the violence of words
Following the release of an amateur video in which a police officer stopped and violently beat a demonstrator, a spokesperson for the police union Alliance, in defence of the officer involved, claimed that the person stopped spat blood in the officer’s face and said, “I have AIDS, you’re going to die. Since then, the victim has denied living with HIV and having threatened the police officers with “contamination” by spitting on them.
The case has swelled up in some media outlets, which have taken up the police unionist’s explanations without deflating the sensationalism surrounding the “danger” of spitting on an HIV-positive person.
Faced with this, many of his AIDS activists and associations of people living with HIV intervened to put the facts in their place, regardless of the position of responsibility that existed during the arrest. “The rapidity of news coverage regularly implies approximations or, worse, leaving room for false beliefs. This is particularly true with regard to HIV/AIDS. But to allow false ideas to be conveyed is to feed the serophobia that plays into the hands of the epidemic,” explains AIDES in its press release published in emergency on 20 January.
On Twitter, the president of Act Up-Paris, Marc-Antoine Bartoli, is moved and says that “aggression or “the attack on AIDS does not exist”. A few weeks ago Act Up New York had to deal with a similar case. It is important to remember that people who test positive for HIV have access to treatment that makes their viral load undetectable and cannot transmit HIV. First fact. The second is that, first and foremost, “the modes of contamination are sexual secretions, breast milk, blood. Saliva does not transmit HIV. Moreover, HIV has very low resistance to the open air. After five to ten seconds in the open air, a drop of blood no longer contains the virus,” AIDES recalls.
These simple indications would have deflated a Serophobic line of defence from the outset, continuing to play on irrational fears. “It is everyone’s responsibility to recall this information as soon as necessary. Without this, stigmatization and false beliefs will not be able to stop,” continues AIDES. And the media have their role to play in informing. This is what Fred Colby, a gay activist who is openly HIV-positive and committed to AIDES, is calling for: “People living with HIV are not walking viruses. People living with HIV are not walking viruses. The media needs to think before they publish this kind of thing or qualify it by talking about treatment and undetectable viral load. Without this prerequisite, this spitting case is likely to come back in the news, without any lessons being learned from the previous one. Again to the detriment of HIV-positive people.
Crachat et VIH : la violence des maux
À la suite de la diffusion d’une vidéo amateur, dans laquelle un policier interpelle et frappe violemment un manifestant, le porte-parole du syndicat de policiers Alliance affirmait, pour la défense de l’officier mis en cause, que la personne interpellée aurait craché du sang au visage du policier en disant : « J’ai le sida, tu vas crever ». Depuis, la victime réfute vivre avec le VIH et avoir menacé les policiers de « contamination » en leur crachant dessus. L’affaire a enflé dans certains médias, qui ont repris à leur compte les explications du syndicaliste de la police, sans pour autant dégonfler le sensationnalisme autour du « danger » d’un crachat d’une personne séropositive au VIH. Face à cela, de nombreux-ses militants-es de la lutte contre le sida et des associations de personnes vivant avec sont intervenus pour remettre les faits à leur place, peu importe la position sur les responsabilités en cours durant l’arrestation. « La rapidité de traitement de l’actualité implique régulièrement des approximations ou pire, de laisser la place à de fausses croyances. C’est particulièrement vrai concernant le VIH/sida. Or, laissez véhiculer de fausses idées, c’est nourrir la sérophobie qui fait le jeu de l’épidémie », explique AIDES dans son communiqué publié en urgence, le 20 janvier. Sur Twitter, le président d’Act Up-Paris, Marc-Antoine Bartoli, s’émeut et indique que « l’agression ou « l’attaque au sida n’existe pas ». Il y a quelques semaines Act up New-York a eu à faire à un cas similaire. Il est important de rappeler que les personnes dépistées séropositives ont accès à un traitement qui rend leur charge virale indétectable et ne peuvent pas transmette le VIH. Premier fait. Le second, c’est qu’avant toute chose, « les modes de contamination sont les sécrétions sexuelles, le lait maternel, le sang. La salive ne transmet pas le VIH. De plus, le VIH a une très faible résistance à l’air libre. Après cinq à dix secondes à l’air libre, une goutte de sang ne contient plus de virus », rappelle AIDES. Ces simples indications auraient permis de dégonfler d’emblée une ligne de défense sérophobe, continuant de jouer sur les peurs irrationnelles. « Il est de la responsabilité de toutes et tous de rappeler dès que nécessaires ces informations. Sans cela, les stigmatisations et fausses croyances ne pourront pas cesser », continue AIDES. Et les médias ont leur rôle d’information à jouer. C’est ce que réclame Fred Colby, activiste gay, ouvertement séropositif et engagé à AIDES: « Les personnes vivant avec le VIH ne sont pas des virus ambulants. Il faut que les médias réfléchissent avant de publier ce genre de choses ou nuancent en parlant du traitement et de la charge virale indétectable ». Sans ce préalable, cette affaire du crachat risque de revenir dans l’actualité, sans qu’aucune leçon ne soit tirée de la précédente. Au détriment, encore, des personnes séropositives.
US: Reporter fired for pushing misleading information in story about man who allegedly spat at Port Authority Officer
WCBS Fires Reporter for Pushing False HIV Fears in Arrest Story
TV outlet, Port Authority police union linked suspect’s alleged spitting to infection risk.
CBS New York confirmed to Gay City News that it has fired a reporter who stoked fear and pushed misinformation about HIV transmission in a story about the arrest of a man who allegedly spit at a Port Authority police officer.
CBS New York has fired a reporter they say was responsible for pushing insensitive and misleading narratives about HIV/ AIDS in a story that blew up on social media on December 8 and 9, a spokesperson confirmed to Gay City News.
As reported by Gay City News, the local CBS affiliate in New York published an article and social media posts implying that an HIV-positive man who allegedly spit on a Port Authority police officer was somehow putting the cop at risk for the virus, despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted by saliva.
The reporter described the alleged spitting incident as an “HIV ATTACK” in a tweet, and wrote in the article that the “suspect admitted they spit into an officer’s mouth knowing they had HIV.”
“This online story should not have been published,” CBS New York wrote to Gay City News in a written statement. “It does not meet our journalistic standards, nor does it reflect our core values. The person who wrote and published the story and social media post failed to review the copy with our news managers. This individual is no longer employed by CBS New York.”
A CBS New York spokesperson declined comment when asked, for purposes of transparency, who was fired. The article in question did not have a byline, though the name of one reporter, Tony Aiello, was listed under the “filed under” section of the article and drew attention from some folks on social media who believed he was behind the story. The spokesperson said he was not the reporter who was fired.
However, the other key piece of the story — that the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association (PAPBA) also pushed false claims about HIV and shared the suspect’s HIV status with CBS — remains unresolved. A union spokesperson interviewed by Gay City News on December 9 tried framing the man who allegedly spit on the officer as someone who tried using his HIV status as some sort of weapon.
“The problem is when a person with an infectious disease has a weapon, we have a problem with that,” said PAPBA public information officer Bob Egbert. “A guy who knowingly has an infectious disease — that’s a problem.”
The union has not apologized or retracted any comments, raising the likelihood that advocates who have strongly condemned the news story and the PAPBA comments will continue raising concerns and the controversy will continue to metastasize.
The stigmatization and misinformation infuriated the LGBTQ community and local advocacy organizations who reacted with shock and outrage toward CBS New York and the PAPBA when the article and tweets surfaced. On the afternoon of December 9, ACT UP NY, Bailey House, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Housing Works, and VOCAL-NY were among those who vowed to raise their concerns in a demonstration at CBS headquarters in Manhattan on December 10.
Making Media Work for HIV Justice: An introduction to media engagement for advocates opposing HIV criminalisation now available in Spanish, French and Russian
Today, HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE has published “Making Media Work for HIV Justice: An introduction to media engagement for advocates opposing HIV criminalisation” in three additional languages: Spanish, French and Russian. [Click on the image to download the pdf]
The purpose of this critical media toolkit is to inform and equip global grassroots advocates who are engaged in media response to HIV criminalisation–and to demystify the practice of working with, and through, media to change the conversation around criminalisation.
The toolkit provides an introduction to the topic of HIV criminalisation and the importance of engagement with media to change narratives around this unjust practice.
The toolkit also includes reporting tips for journalists, designed to educate writers and media makers around the nuances of HIV criminalisation, and the harms of inaccurate and stigmatising coverage.
Finally, the toolkit also includes a number of case studies providing examples of how media played a significant role in the outcome, or the impetus, of HIV criminalisation advocacy.
Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee member organisation that produced the toolkit, has been working on HIV criminalisation for many years, and was an instrumental part of the coalition that brought HIV criminal law reform to the US state of California.
The new translations are the latest additions to the HIV JUSTICE Toolkit, currently available in English and French, and soon to be available in Spanish and Russian, which provides resources from all over the world to assist advocates in approaching a range of advocacy targets, including lawmakers, prosecutors and judges, police, and the media.