UK: Yusef Azad of the National AIDS Trust calls for an end to HIV being used in court to emphasise the seriousness of a crime when it has no relevance to it

20th June 2017

Last month newspapers reported the trial and conviction of a man who had gone berserk in a Manchester hotel, during which he both caused criminal damage and bit a police officer who had been called to the scene to restrain him.  Deplorable of course, though sadly not that uncommon an event.  But there was a twist to this story, fastened on in newspaper headlines:

“‘Vile coward’ salesman with HIV deliberately BIT family man copper in shock hotel assault”

The man has HIV and his name and identity were disclosed in the media.  His HIV positive status is now permanently in the public domain for anyone who ever feels like googling him.  His HIV positive status was brought up in court by the prosecuting lawyer, ‘[The police officer] had a bite mark on his arm, which didn’t pierce the skin … As it was found that the defendant is HIV positive then more tests had to be taken by the police officer’.

A bite which does not pierce the skin caries absolutely zero risk of HIV – why does the CPS allow a prosecutor to claim that tests were necessary?  This is simply untrue and misleads the court.  But the alleged need for such tests and the implicit risk of HIV transmission is used to emphasise the trauma of the victim and the seriousness of the offence – it is meant to have an impact on the severity of sentence.  A man’s HIV status has been revealed publicly and permanently, and quite possibly had an impact on his sentence, even though his HIV had absolutely no relevance to the crime for which he was convicted.  This is not just prosecution, it is persecution on the basis of HIV status by police and prosecutors.

And unfortunately it is not a one-off but something NAT witnesses repeatedly as we monitor press reports on HIV in the UK.  With some regularity we come across news articles of cases where people have their HIV status raised publicly in court even though it has no bearing on the offence.  They are usually assaults of varying degrees of seriousness and the HIV status of the accused is claimed as a reason for the victim to have an HIV test, or take PEP, with great stress on the anxiety and trauma of worrying about possible HIV transmission.  Needless to say in no instance, following such assaults, has the victim actually acquired HIV as a result.

That is not surprising given, for a start, that well over 90% of people diagnosed with HIV are on effective treatment and incapable of transmitting HIV to others.  But the courts seem to take no account of treatment as prevention.  Nor do they seem to understand how HIV is and is not transmitted.  HIV is raised in cases of spitting, biting and scratching where HIV could not have been passed on.  As in this recent Manchester case, the HIV status of defendants are put in the public domain and their sentences often affected without justification.

Should we feel sorry for convicted criminals? Some might say they had it coming and they deserve justice.  Absolutely, justice is essential.  But this isn’t it.  Everyone has the right to be treated equally before the law but at the moment people with HIV are being treated worse than those who are HIV negative and guilty of the same offences.

What about the victims?  There is now an expectation that the impact on the victim of a crime is taken into account by the court.  That is understandable and right – but what happens when the fear of HIV is wholly without foundation and a result simply of stigma or ignorance.  What happens when a victim insists on an HIV test or PEP despite clear clinical advice that it is unnecessary and they are not at risk of HIV?  Taking account of fear and anxiety in such circumstances is for the courts simply to endorse and propagate HIV misinformation and prejudice. The harm of these cases goes beyond that to the defendant.  Everyone with HIV is harmed by newspaper accounts of trials which faithfully report the inaccurate fears of HIV transmission raised in court and which increase HIV stigma as a result.

Nor does this do any favours to the victims who are just reinforced in their trauma and misunderstanding of how HIV is passed on.

These cases remind me of the old ‘Gay Panic’ defence where people charged with attacking gay men would claim their actions were an instinctive immediate response to a gay man coming on to them.  A completely natural, if regrettable, reaction from a red-blooded male.  Happily, the CPS would now give short shrift to such a defence if raised in court.  But instead they irresponsibly play with an equally discreditable HIV-version in prosecuting crimes.  We might call it the ‘HIV panic’ attack, where, despite all the evidence and science showing that HIV has no relevance to the crime, they nevertheless encourage the ‘HIV panic’ of the victim to be raised in court as part of their case for the culpability of the accused.

This has to stop.  The police, CPS and the courts are failing in their Public Sector Equality Duty and are guilty of discrimination.  We call on the CPS to meet us and discuss how this injustice can be brought to an end as soon as possible.

Published by the National AIDS Trust on June 20, 2017

Norway: Activists concerned about latest proposals to change Norway's HIV law

Critical to changes in section 237 of the Criminal Code

Reidar Engesbak, April 26, 2017

(Google translation from, original post below)

The government last week presented a proposal – Prop. 120 L (2016–2017) – for penalties on transmission of infection and endangered spread of infection.

The Ministry of Justice’s submitted to the Storting a proposal for amendments to section 237 of the Criminal Code, which mainly follows the recommendations of the statutory committee that were appointed on the basis of criticism of the current criminal law regulation.

The law committee resulted in the NOU “About Love and Cooling Tower – Criminal Justice in Major Infectious Diseases.”

“I am pleased that we now propose a regulatory framework that addresses the medical development,” said Per-Willy Amundsen, Deputy Minister of Justice, in a press release.

The proposal entails, among other things, clarification that criminal liability is not imposed when appropriate contingency measures have been observed. This includes, among other things, successful medical treatment of HIV infection. Emphasis has been placed on the fact that the knowledge base on the treatment of HIV infection has changed in recent years and that the infection risk from well-treated HIV-positive individuals must be considered minimal.

The government also proposes a change in the Criminal Procedure Act, which allows the police to routinely investigate the infectious status of persons suspected of rape or other serious sexual assault.

“The proposal means that we can be clarified faster than today if the victims have been exposed to a risk of infection. It is important for the government to strengthen the offender’s position in criminal matters, and this change will contribute to that, “Amundsen said in the press release.

Contrary to UNAIDS ‘recommendations

The user organization New Plus – Hivpositives National Association is not so excited. The proposals, according to New Plus’s view, involve a number of things that will worsen the legal situation of those living with HIV.

“What is positive with the bill is that it is suggested that you can not prosecute people who have been negligent and that it is now necessary to commit gross negligence in order to be prosecuted,” said Kim Fangen, Managing Director of New Plus.

New Plus nevertheless believes that the boundary is still unclear. “It is still not the case that actual transmission of infection will be required in order to be punished. Consequently, the provision will still violate UNAIDS ‘recommendations, which state that punishment can only be used where there is a person who is aware that he or she has HIV or with the knowledge and willingness to infect another and infection is actually transmitted.

A little impractical

The proposition is for people to be treated for successful treatment to be exempted from punishment. It’s a suggestion New Plus applaudes. “However, the proposal implies that one can only be exempted from punishment after successful treatment and has been with his partner for prior infection prevention guidance from healthcare professionals, as well as the consent of the partner after this. This scheme applies today only to persons living in marriage or marriage-like relationships. The Ministry therefore wishes to extend the personal circle that will be covered in principle, it will apply to all,” said Fangen to Blikk Nett.

New Plus believes the scheme is impractical. “We can hardly see for ourselves that you want to bring a man for two weeks to the GP to get such consent. It will soon become most relevant for those who have been together for so long that one will nevertheless be covered by today’s wording about marital-like relationships. In any event, this means that an obligation to inform sexual partners is forced for persons who are nevertheless not infectious. People who are on successful treatment will not be able to transfer infection to others, says Fangen, and refers to statements by Professor Jens Lundgren at Rigshospitalet in Denmark.

“When you know at the same time how little knowledge exists in the society about HIV, this means that you can quickly find yourself in a very vulnerable situation to those you want to have sex with, without even jeopardizing the other.

Increased penalty frame

The Ministry of Justice’s proposal also wishes to raise the penalty frame for gross negligence from 3 to 6 years through a new provision in the Act. “This is very serious because it sends a signal about the severity of these actions and could make it even more stigmatizing to live with HIV,” Kim Fangen points out.

“We know that most infections occur when the person who has the virus does not even know that they are infected. These penalties will continue to hit people who have, in their ignorance, exposed others to infectious persons and people who can not actually infect anyone, but because they have not been open about status and conducted infectious guidance can be punished nevertheless. This is believed to mean that fewer will be open about HIV status and that people living with HIV will feel further stigmatized, “said Kim Fangen to Blikk Nett.

“We therefore see no reason to cheer over this and will continue the fight to completely decriminalize HIV.

Kritisk til endringer i Straffeloven § 237

Regjeringen la forrige uke fram et forslag til straffebestemmelser om smitteoverføring og allmennfarlig smittespredning.

Justisdepartementets proposisjon (Prop.120L) til Stortinget et forslag til endringer i Straffelovens paragraf 237, som i hovedsak følger opp anbefalingene til lovutvalget som ble oppnevnt på bakgrunn av kritikk mot den gjeldende strafferettslige reguleringen.

Lovutvalget resulterte i NOU-en «Om kjærlighet og kjøletårn — Strafferettslige spørsmål ved alvorlige smittsomme sykdommer.»

– Jeg er fornøyd med at vi nå foreslår et regelverk som tar opp i seg den medisinske utviklingen, sa justis- og beredskapsminister Per-Willy Amundsen (FrP) i en pressemelding.

Forslaget innebærer blant annet en klargjøring av at straffeansvar ikke pådras når forsvarlige smitteverntiltak er iakttatt. Dette omfatter blant annet vellykket medisinsk behandling av hivsmitte. Det er lagt vekt på at kunnskapsgrunnlaget om behandling av hivsmitte har endret seg de siste årene, og at smitterisikoen fra velbehandlede hivpositive personer må anses som minimal.

Regjeringen foreslår også en endring i straffeprosessloven som åpner for at politiet rutinemessig kan undersøke smittestatusen til personer som er mistenkt for voldtekt eller andre alvorlige seksuelle overgrep.

– Forslaget innebærer at vi raskere enn i dag kan få avklart om fornærmede har blitt utsatt for smittefare. Det er viktig for regjeringen å styrke fornærmedes stilling i straffesaker, og denne endringen vil bidra til det, sa Amundsen i pressemeldingen.

Strider mot UNAIDS’ anbefalinger

Brukerorganisasjonen Nye Pluss – Hivpositives landsforening er ikke så begeistret. Forslagene innebærer etter Nye Pluss sitt syn en rekke ting som vil forverre den juridiske situasjonen for de som lever med hiv.

– Det som er positivt med proposisjonen, er at det foreslås at man ikke kan straffeforfølge personer som bare har vært uaktsomme, og at det skal nå kreves grov uaktsomhet for å kunne straffeforfølges, sier Kim Fangen, daglig leder i Nye Pluss.

Nye Pluss mener likevel at grensegangen fortsatt er uklar.

– Det er fortsatt ikke slik at faktisk smitteoverføring vil kreves for at man skal kunne straffes. Følgelig vil bestemmelsen fortsatt stride mot UNAIDS’ anbefalinger, som statuerer at straff bare kan brukes der det er snakk om at en person enten er klar over at hen har hiv, eller med viten og vilje går inn for å smitte en annen og smitte faktisk overføres.

Lite praktisk

Proposisjonen går inn for at personer på vellykket behandling skal fritas fra straff. Det er et forslag Nye Pluss applauderer.

– Forslaget innebærer dog at man bare kan fritas fra straff om man er på vellykket behandling og har vært med sin partner til forutgående smittevernveiledning hos helsepersonell, samt fått samtykke fra partneren etter dette. Denne ordningen gjelder i dag bare for personer som lever i ekteskap eller ekteskapslignende forhold. Departementet ønsker dermed å utvide personkretsen som vil omfattes til at den i prinsippet vil gjelde alle, sier Fangen til Blikk Nett.

Nye Pluss mener ordningen er lite praktisk.

– Vi kan vanskelig se for oss at man vil ta med seg en man har datet i to uker til fastlegen for å få et slikt samtykke. Det blir fort mest aktuelt for de som har vært sammen såpass lenge at man uansett vil dekkes av dagens ordlyd om ekteskapslignende forhold. Uansett betyr dette at man tvinger frem en informasjonsplikt overfor seksualpartnere for personer som uansett ikke er smittefarlige. Personer som er på vellykket behandling vil ikke være i stand til å overføre smitte til andre, sier Fangen og viser til uttalelser fra professor Jens Lundgren ved Rigshospitalet i Danmark.

– Når man samtidig vet hvor lite kunnskap som finnes i samfunnet om hiv, gjør dette at man fort setter seg i en veldig sårbar situasjon overfor de man vil ha sex med, uten at man selv utgjør noen fare for den andre.

Økt strafferamme

Justisdepartementets proposisjon ønsker i tillegg å heve strafferammen for grov uaktsomhet fra 3 til 6 år gjennom en ny bestemmelse i loven.

– Dette er svært alvorlig fordi det sender et signal om alvorlighetsgraden av disse handlingene og vil kunne gjøre det ytterligere stigmatiserende å leve med hiv, påpeker Kim Fangen.

– Vi vet at de fleste smitteoverføringer skjer der personen som har viruset ikke selv vet at hen er smittet. Disse straffebestemmelsene vil forsette å ramme personer som i sin uvitenhet har utsatt andre for smittefare og personer som i realiteten ikke kan smitte noen, men som fordi de ikke har vært åpne om status og gjennomført smitteveiledning vil kunne straffeforfølges likevel. Dette tror vi vil medføre at færre vil være åpne om hivstatus og at personer som lever med hiv vil føle seg ytterligere stigmatisert, sier Kim Fangen til Blikk Nett.

– Vi ser dermed ingen grunn til å juble over dette og vil fortsette kampen for å avkriminalisere hiv fullstendig.

Canada: Toronto’s ‘Now’ weekly newspaper prominently features HIV criminalisation impact, advocacy and advocates

This week, Toronto’s weekly newspaper, ‘Now’, features four articles on HIV criminalisation and its impact in Canada.

The lead article, ‘HIV is not a crime’ is written from the point of view of an HIV-negative person who discovers a sexual partner had not disclosed to him.  It concludes:

After my experience with non-disclosure, I felt some resentment. But while researching this article, I reached out to the person who didn’t disclose to me. We talked about the assumptions we’d both made about each other. It felt good to talk and air our grievances.


I realized I’d learned something I’d never heard from doctors during any of my dozens of trips to the STI clinic, something I’d never heard from my family, my school, in the media or from the government – that you don’t need to be afraid of people living with HIV.

Screenshot 2017-01-13 09.48.27A second article, Laws criminalizing HIV are putting vulnerable women at greater risk, highlights the impact HIV criminalisation is having on women in Canada, notably that it is preventing sexual assault survivors living with HIV from coming forward due to a fear they will be prosecuted for HIV non-disclosure (which, ironically, is treated as a more serious sexual assault than rape).

Moreover, treating HIV-positive women as sex offenders is subverting sexual assault laws designed to protect sexual autonomy and gender equality. Front-line workers and lawyers say they’re hearing from HIV-positive women who are afraid to report rape and domestic abuse for fear of being charged with aggravated sexual assault themselves.


“People come to me all the time who don’t know what to do,” says Cynthia Fromstein, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer who’s worked on 25 to 30 non-disclosure cases. “Canada, unfortunately, is virulent in its zeal to prosecute aggravated sexual assault related to HIV non-disclosure.”

Screenshot 2017-01-13 09.48.41It also features a strong editorial, ‘HIV disclosure double jeopardy’ by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s Cecile Kazatchkine and HALCO’s Executive Director, Ryan Peck, which notes:

In a statement that mostly flew under the radar, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould declared, on World AIDS Day (December 1), her government’s intention “to examine the criminal justice system’s response to non-disclosure of HIV status,” recognizing that “the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure discourages many individuals from being tested and seeking treatment, and further stigmatizes those living with HIV or AIDS.”


Wilson-Raybould also stated that  “the [Canadian] criminal justice system must adapt to better reflect the current scientific evidence on the realities of this disease.”


This long-overdue statement was the first from the government of Canada on this issue since 1998, the year the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on R v. Cuerrier, the first case to reach the high court on the subject.

15937182_1055417094604635_6279465723502378214_oFinally, the magazine features a number of promiment HIV activists from Canada, including Alex McClelland, who is studying the impact of HIV criminalisation on people accused and/or convicted in Canada.

He contributed his first piece to HJN last month.

Canada: Canadian Report highlights a "clear pattern of racism" in media reporting of HIV-related offences

Media accused of racism in reporting HIV-related crime

Black males with HIV account for 20 per cent of the 181 people charged for no disclosing HIV status to sexual partners, but 62 per cent of newspaper articles focused on their cases.

Canadian mainstream media disproportionally focus on black immigrant men criminally charged for not disclosing HIV status to their sexual partners when the majority of offenders are white, says a new study.

To mark World AIDS Day on Wednesday, a team of Canadian researchers released the pioneering study last week identifying “a clear pattern of racism” toward black men in the reporting of HIV non-disclosure in Canadian newspapers.

“The most striking revelation of this report was the grand scale of stereotyping and stigmatizing by Canadian media outlets in their sensationalistic coverage of HIV non-disclosure cases,” said Eric Mykhalovskiy, a York University sociology professor, who leads the team.

“It’s upsetting to read myths masquerading as news and repeating the theme of how black men living with HIV are hypersexual dangerous ‘others.’ This approach not only demeans journalism, but it inflames racism and HIV stigmatization, undermining educational and treatment efforts.”

Based on the database of Factiva, an English-language Canadian newspaper articles from 1989 to 2015, researchers from York, University of Toronto and Lakehead University identified 1,680 reports of HIV non-disclosure cases. Of those reports 68 per cent, or 1,141 of the articles, focused on racialized defendants.

According to court records of HIV-related criminal cases in Canada, African, Caribbean and black men living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, account for 20 per cent or 36 of the 181 people charged for these offenses. However, 62 per cent or 1,049 of the 1,680 media reports focused on these 20 per cent of the cases.

Immigrants and refugees receive particularly higher amount of coverage. While only 32 of the 181 accused are known to be migrants to Canada, yet stories about their offences represented 62 per cent (1,046 of 1,680) of the media coverage.

“The report documents the media’s stigmatizing and unjust racial profiling of black heterosexual immigrant men in HIV non-disclosure cases that perpetuates systematic discrimination,” said Christian Hui, an HIV activist and co-founder of the Canadian Positive People Network.

“We know next to nothing about them other than their name, age, residence, occupation, the charges they face,” said the report. “What is distinct about the coverage of African, Caribbean and black male defendants is how (they) are linked with racializing forms of representation in ways that amplify connections between HIV, criminality, race and ‘foreignness.’”

Mykhalovskiy said the research team recognized that accused criminals often refuse to speak with the media at their counsel’s advice, but it does not change the fact black immigrant offenders are disproportionally represented in the coverage.

The study urges the Canadian media to treat HIV non-disclosure as a health issue and not simply a crime story; to stop using mug shots that further stigmatizing and discriminate people with HIV as criminals; and to reach out to AIDS service organizations when interviewing sources for these stories.

Published in The Star, on Dec 1, 2016

HIV Criminalization: Masking Fear and Discrimination (Sero, US, 2016)

A short documentary for the Sero Project produced by Mark S King, written by Christopher King, and edited by Andrew Seger.

Canada: New report explores mainstream Canadian newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure criminal cases, highlighting stigmatizing representations of African, Caribbean and Black men living with HIV


This report explores mainstream Canadian newspaper coverage of HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada. It pays particular attention to how defendants’ race and immigration status figure into the newspaper representations of such cases. We empirically enquire into claims that African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) people living with HIV are negatively portrayed and overrepresented in Canadian newspaper stories about HIV non-disclosure cases. Our analysis is based on what, to our knowledge, is the largest data set of news coverage of the issue: a corpus of 1680 English-language Canadian newspaper articles about HIV non-disclosure criminal cases in Canada written between 1 January 1989 and 31 December 2015. Our quantitative and qualitative findings show that Canadian mainstream newspapers are a source of profoundly stigmatizing representations of ACB men living with HIV. For example, Black immigrant men living with HIV are dramatically overemphasized in Canadian mainstream newspaper stories about such cases. While these men account for only 15% of defendants charged they are the focus of 61% of newspaper coverage. Mainstream newspapers rely on forms of language that transfer a long history of exaggerated connections between criminality, race, sex, and otherness to the site of HIV. The result is that ACB men living with HIV are repeatedly represented as dangerous, hypersexual, foreigners who pose a threat to the health and safety of individuals (White women) and, more broadly, the imagined Canadian nation.
The report is available to download here


Canada: ‘HIV is not a crime’ documentary premieres in Montreal at Concordia University’s ‘The Movement to End HIV Criminalization’ event

Last week, Concordia Unversity in Montreal, Canada, held the world premiere public screening of HJN’s ‘HIV is not a crime training academy’ documentary, followed by three powerful and richly evocative presentations by activist and PhD candidate, Alex McClelland; HJN’s Research Fellow in HIV, Gender, and Justice, Laurel Sprague; and activist and Hofstra University Professor, Andrew Spieldenner.

The meeting, introduced by Liz Lacharpagne of COCQ-SIDA and by Martin French of Concordia University – who put the lecture series together – was extremely well-attended, and resulted in a well-written and researched article by student jounrnalist, Ocean DeRouchie, alongside a strong editorial from Concordia’s newspaper, The Link.

(The full text of both article and editorial are below.)

Presentations included:

  • Edwin Bernard, Global Co-ordinator, HIV Justice Network: ‘The Global Picture: Surveying the State of HIV Criminalisation’
  • Alex McClelland, Concordia University: ‘Criminal Charges for HIV Non-disclosure, Transmission and/or Exposure: Impacts on the Lives of People Living with HIV’
  • Laurel Sprague, Research Fellow in HIV, Gender, and Justice, HIV Justice Network: ‘Your Sentence is Not My Freedom: Feminism, HIV Criminalization and Systems of Stigma’
  • Andrew Spieldenner, Hofstra University: ‘The Cost of Acceptable Losses: Exploring Intersectionality, Meaningful Involvement of People with HIV, and HIV Criminalization’

Articles based on a number of these important presentations will be published on the HJN website in coming



The Movement to End HIV Criminalization

Decrying Criminalization

Concordia Lecture Series Prompts Discussion on HIV Non-disclosure

The sentiment surrounding HIV/AIDS is often one of discomfort. But the reluctance to speak openly about such a significant and impactful disease is hurting the people closest to it.

Under current Canadian legislation, HIV non-disclosure is criminalized. It exercises some of the most punitive aspects of our criminal justice system, explained Alexander McClelland, a writer and researcher currently working on a PhD at Concordia.

McClelland was one of four panelists speaking under Concordia’s Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS on Thursday, Sept. 15 in the Hall building. The collective puts on multiple panel-based events in order to address the attitudes, laws, and intersections of political and socioeconomic stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Talking About HIV, Legally

There are three distinct charges that guide prosecutors in HIV cases—transmission (giving the disease to someone without having disclosed your status), exposure (e.g. spitting or biting) and non-disclosure (not informing a sexual partner about your HIV/AIDS status).

Aggravated sexual assault and attempted murder are some of the charges that defendants often face, explained Edwin Bernard, Global Coordinator for the HIV Justice Network, during the discussion.

While there are clearly defined situations in which you are legally obligated to tell a sex partner about your HIV status, there are no HIV-specific laws. This results in the application of general law in cases that are anything but general.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada established that “people living with HIV must disclose their status before having sex that poses a ‘realistic possibility of HIV transmission.’” presents a clear map of situations in which you’d have to tell a sex partner about your status because, in fact, it is not in all scenarios that you’d be legally required to have the discussion.

A lot of it depends on your viral load—the amount of measurable virus in your bloodstream, usually taken in milliliters. A “low” to undetectable viral load is the goal, and is achieved with anti-viral medication.

Treatment serves to render HIV-positive individuals non-infectious, and therefore lowering the risk of transmission. A “high” viral load indicates increased amounts of HIV in the blood.

If protection is used and with a low viral load, one might not have to disclose their status at all.

That said, there is a legal obligation to disclose one’s HIV-positive status before any penetrative sex sans-condom, regardless of viral load. You’d also have to bring it up before having any sex with protection if you have a viral load higher than “low.”

But not all sex is spelled out so clearly.

Oral sex, for instance, is a grey area. says, “oral sex is usually considered very low risk for HIV transmission.” They write that “despite some developments at lower level courts,” they cannot say for sure what does not require disclosure.

There are “no risk” activities. Smooching and touching one another are intimate activities that, as health professionals say, pose such a small risk of transmission that there “should be no legal duty to disclose an HIV-positive status.”

Moving Up, and Out of Hand

Court proceedings are based on how the jury and judge want to apply general laws to specific instances. There are a lot of factors that can influence the outcome.

The case-to-case outlook leads to the criminal justice system dealing with non-disclosure in such a disproportionate way, said McClelland.

The situation begs the question: “Why is society responding in such a punitive way?” asked McClelland.

This isn’t to say that not disclosing one’s HIV status “doesn’t require some potential form of intervention,” he explained, adding that intervention could incorporate counseling, mental-health support, encouragement around building self-esteem and learning how to deal and live with the virus in the world. “But in engaging with the very blunt instrument that is the criminal law is the wrong approach.”

He continued to explain that the reality of the criminalization of HIV ultimately doesn’t do anything to prevent HIV transmission.

“It’s just ruining people’s lives,” said McClelland, who has been interviewing Canadians who have been affected by criminal charges due to HIV-related situations. “It’s a very complex social situation that requires a nuanced approach to support people.”

“It’s just ruining people’s lives. It’s a very complex social situation that requires a nuanced approach to support people.” – Alexander McClelland, Concordia PhD student

Counting the Cases

The Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange, a Canadian resource for information on HIV/AIDS, states that about 75,500 Canadians were living with the virus by the end of the 2014, according to the yearly national HIV estimates.

That number has gone up since. On Monday, Sept. 19, Saskatoon doctors called for a public health state of emergency due to overwhelmingly increasing cases of new infections and transmission, according to CBC.

In Quebec, there have been cases surrounding transmission and exposure. In 2013, Jacqueline Jacko, an HIV-positive woman, was sentenced to ten months in prison for spitting on a police officer—despite findings that confirm that the disease cannot be transmitted through saliva.

In this situation, Jacko had called for police assistance in removing an unwelcome person from her home. Aggression transpired between her and the officers, resulting in her arrest and eventually her spitting on them, according to Le Devoir.

“[This case] is so clearly based on AIDS-phobia, AIDS stigma and fear,” added McClelland, “and an example of how the police treat these situations and use HIV as a way to criminalize people.”

Police intervention is crucial in the fight against HIV criminalization. McClelland urged people to consider the consequences of involving the justice system in these kinds of situations.

“It’s important to understand that the current scientific reality for HIV is that it’s a chronic, manageable condition. When people take [antivirals] they are rendered non-infectious,” he said. “They should then understand that the fear is grounded in a kind of stigma and historical understanding of HIV that is no longer correct today.”

The first instinct, or notion of calling the police in an instance where one feels they may have been exposed to the virus in some way is “mostly grounded in fear and panic,” he said.

“[Police] respond in a really disproportionate, violent way towards people—so I would consider questioning, or at least thinking twice before calling the police,” McClelland explained.

On the other hand, he suggested approaching the situation in more conventional, educational and progressive methods.

“I think it could be talked through in different ways—by going to a counselor, talking to a close friend, engaging with a community organization, learning about HIV and what it means to have HIV, and understanding that the risk of HIV transmission are very low because of people being on [antivirals].”

As for the current state of Canadian legislation, there are a lot of complexities that hinder heavy-hitting changes to the laws.

Due to the Supreme Court’s rulings in 2012, they are unlikely to review the decision for another decade. For now, the main course of action is “on the ground,” said McClelland. From mitigating people from requesting police involvement in order to “slow down the cases,” to raising awareness through events such as Concordia’s Community Lecture Series, and engaging with the people to resolve issues in community-based ways and collective of care.

Then, McClelland said, “trying to do high-level political advocacy to get leaders to think about how they can change the current situation” would be the next step.

Editorial: Community-Based Research is the Key to HIV Destigmatization and Decriminalization

Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis is already a life sentence. The state of Canada’s legal system threatens to give those living with the virus another one.

An HIV diagnosis is accompanied by its own set of complexities that are not encompassed in Canada’s criminal law. By pushing HIV non-disclosure cases into the same box as more easily defined assault cases, we are generalizing an issue that frankly cannot be simplified.

This does not reflect the reality that one faces when living with HIV. Criminalizing the virus further stigmatizes what should and could be everyday activities.

This puts the estimated 75,000 Canadians living with HIV at risk of being further isolated. This takes us backwards, considering the scientific progress that has been made to make living with the virus manageable. Under the proper antiviral medication, one’s risk of transmitting the disease is incredibly low. This stigma is rooted in an antiquated understanding of what HIV is and the associated risks—much of that fear having emerged primarily as a result of homophobia.

Further, with over 185 cases having been brought to court, Canada is leading in terms of criminalizing HIV non-disclosure. This pushes marginalized communities farther away. According to estimates from 2014, indigenous populations have a 2.7 higher incidence rate than the non-indigenous Canadian average. Gay men have an incidence rate that is 131 times higher than the rest of the male population in Canada.

As of Sept. 19, doctors in Saskatchewan are calling on the provincial government to declare a public health state of emergency, with a spike in HIV/AIDS cases around the province.

In 2010, it’s reported that indigenous people accounted for 73 per cent of all new cases in the province. Outreach and treatment for these communities are at the forefront of Saskatchewan’s doctor’s recommendations for the government.

With such a highly treatable virus, however, the problem should never have gone this far. It is an excerpt from a much bigger issue.

As we can see from the available statistics, HIV—both the virus and its criminalization—is a mirror for broader inequalities that exist within society. HIV related issues disproportionately affect racialized people, gender non-conforming people, and other marginalized groups.

Discussions around HIV also must include discussions around drug use. The heavy criminalization of injection drugs has created a context where users are driven deep underground, thus putting them at an incredibly high risk for contracting the virus. Treating drug use as a health rather than a criminal issue is an integral part of any effective HIV prevention strategy. Safe injection sites, such as Vancouver’s InSite, have made staggering differences in their communities and prove to be a positive way of combating the spread of HIV.

This is just one of the many ways that we can control the spread of HIV without judicial intervention, without turning the HIV-positive population into criminals.

Using community-based research enables us to not only understand the needs of the affected population—particularly when it comes to understanding the almost inherent intersectionality associated with the spread of HIV—but also allows us to better target our resources towards those who need it most.

Often times, that stretches to include those closest to HIV-positive individuals. Spreading awareness, and developing resources and a support network for them is just as important in fighting the stigmatization of the virus.

The Link stands for the immediate decriminalization of HIV non-disclosure, and the move towards restorative justice systems in non-disclosure cases. As always, those directly affected by an issue are the ones with who are best positioned to create a solution—something that the restorative justice framework embraces.

The disclosure of one’s HIV status is important. Jailing those who don’t disclose it, however, won’t make the virus go away. It simply isolates the problem, places it out of site and out of mind.

Criminalizing HIV patients is less about justice than it is about appeasing the baseless fears of the general population. It’s time for a more effective solution.

US: Jacob Anderson-Minshall from HIV Plus mag reacts to the latest biting case in Marlyand

When will law enforcement get the message? HIV is neither a death sentence nor transmittable through saliva. So why do they keep arresting HIV-positive people for spitting and or biting and, as in the latest case, charging them with attempted murder?

According to the Baltimore, Maryland-based Capital Gazette, 46-year-old Jeffery David Crook, has been charged with attempted murder for allegedly biting an Anne Arundall County police officer during a tussle.

Crook is being held on half a million dollar bond and has reportedly been charged with multiple counts related to an alleged burglary and the assault on the officer. Crook was reported to the cops after “banging” on the outside of the home of Crook’s ex-boyfriend. Refused entry into the home, Crook allegedy “forced his way” into the house through a sliding glass door and was punched in the face by another man who was in the house.

Officers reported that they located Crook “rambling and incoherent” in an upstairs bedroom and he refused to obey their commands. When they attempted to forcedly arrest him, he resisted so a scuffle ensued. Police say that Crook was then Tasered, which, they allege, had no effect on him, and Crook bit an officer’s arm.

Police stated that the bite broke the officer’s skin, but it was Crook who was immediately transported to a local hospital center for “minor injuries,” the Gazette reported, citing local court records. “While there, he indicated that he was HIV-positive and bit the officer knowing the risk of transmitting the infection.”

Police spokesman Lt. Ryan Frashure said he couldn’t recall another incident where an officer was exposed to a “highly infectious disease,” especially “where it was done intentionally.”

Crook was charged with attempted second-degree murder, home invasion, second-degree assault, third-degree burglary, and reckless endangerment, according to court records.

From a public and mental health perspective, there are so many things wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to begin. Crook’s mumbling, incoherent demeaner should have been a sign he may have been suffering from mental health issues. After entering his former partner’s house (through an unlocked sliding glass door, mind you), he was assaulted and his lip was cut. But instead of calling mental health professionals, officers tried to cuff him. When he struggled, they tased him. Although they reported that Tasing “had no effect,” he was taken to a hospital. Since few suspects are taken to a medical center for “minor injuries” before being interogated, it seems likely they realized he could not give clear answers because of his condition.

More to the point, once at the hospital, Crook disclosed his HIV status. His indication that he bit the police officer “knowing the risk of transmitting the infection,” could have been him simply acknowledging he was aware of his HIV status before he bit the man, or even that he knew there was little or no risk of transmitting HIV through saliva.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear “HIV isn’t spread through saliva.” 

According to the CDC, biting, spitting, and throwing body fluids all carry “negligible” risk of infection. It is particularly disheartening for activists fighting the criminalization of HIV when poz individuals are convicted of felony crimes for having spat at, bit, or thrown fluids at an officer when it is nearly impossible to transmit HIV that way.

In this specific case, no doubt the argument is that Crook was bleeding from the mouth when he bit the officer hard enough to break skin. But breaking skin and having a small amount of each person’s blood comingling is still highly unlikely to transmit HIV.

Even if a person with HIV gets hurt playing tackle football or boxing at the gym, it’s “highly unlikely that HIV transmission could occur in this manner,” according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The external contact with blood that might occur in a sports injury is very different from direct entry of blood into the bloodstream, which occurs from sharing needles or works.”

Even if the officer in question did defy all odds and turn up HIV-positive, there’s no way to be sure it was transmitted in this occassion. Moreover, there’s still a significant problem with the charge of attempted murder. Like many laws that criminalize behavior like sex work or add sentencing penalties only for those who are HIV-positive, charging someone with attempted murder instead of assault is based entirely on the outdated equation that HIV equals death. It’s based on an outdated view of the HIV-positive body not as a human being but as a “deadly weapon.”

These offensive tropes are decades out of date, have been out-and-out discredited by modern science, and rendered obsolete by the development of highly active antiretroviral medications that have transformed HIV from a terminal disease to a manageable chronic condition.

And yet, when confronted with even the tiniest of bodily fluid of HIV-positive individuals, police officers continue to overreact with fear (the officer in the Crook case “remained out of work” days after the incident) and arrest people for actions that cannot transmit HIV, simply because they discover their alleged perp also has HIV.

Around the country, district attorneys in these cases continue to charge HIV-positive individuals with crimes for things that are not criminal, continue bumping up simple charges from misdemeanors to felonies just because the individuals involved are poz, and continue to claim that exposure to HIV is a death sentence when it isn’t. Judges continue to accept these arguments, and continue handing down these overblown sentences, often without the abiility for parole.

Most of the law and order representatives who embrace HIV criminalization do so out of ignorance, but some are aware of the facts and proceed anyway because the law was written in such a way that facts, medical findings, and scientific proof simply have no bearing on the case.

Many of those who are serving extended prison terms have not even transmitted HIV to another person (think Michael Johnson in Missouri and Kerry Thomas in Idaho, both serving 30 year sentences). Yet they often face sentences higher for spitting or having sex without disclosure than if they had actually murdered the person they are accused of “infecting.”

How flawed is this system? And what kind of lesson does this teach people about those living with HIV? For one thing, it teaches that knowing one’s status is a legal liability. In Crook’s case — as in most other cases — the determining factor of guilt is often based on whether the individual knew they were HIV-positive at the time. Spit on a police office without knowing you’re poz, it’s a misdemeanor assault. Spit on an officer once you know have HIV? It’s attempted murder. Neither one can actually transmit HIV.

To us, it’s just insane.

Uganda: ABC Radio interviews HIV criminalisation survivor, Rosemary Namubiru, and UGANET’s Dora Kiconco Musinguzi

Listen to Natasha Mitchell compelling interview with HIV criminalisation survivor, Rosemary Namubiru, and UGANET’s Dora Kiconco Musinguzi on the challenge to the problematic HIV criminalisation statutes within Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act.

This seven minute audio report from AIDS 2016 in Durban is excerpted from ABC Radio’s longer podcast, The brutal politics of a virus that won’t go away, by reporter Natasha Mitchell for Background Briefing. 

Listen to and/or download the full podcast and read the transcript on ABC Radio’s website.

The transcript of Natasha’s HIV criminalisation-related report is below.

Natasha Mitchell: In Uganda, around 7% of people are infected, and while the country is recognised for taking decisive action against HIV, the government’s harsh attitude and laws is dramatically undermining that progress.

Rosemary Namubiru is a 66-year-old nurse, mother and grandmother. She found out she had the virus just three years ago, and she thinks she got it from a patient.

Rosemary hadn’t yet disclosed her status at work, but when she was wrongly accused of intentionally infecting a patient, before she knew it the full force of the law was thrown at her.

Rosemary Namubiru: I saw the police coming, and they were holding me, ‘You are under arrest for murder.’ Then they called the media, so when I was in that room they called and told me, ‘Come out.’ I came out and I found a crowd of cameramen, media people.

Natasha Mitchell: Outside the police station?

Rosemary Namubiru: Yes.

Natasha Mitchell: Rosemary was charged with attempted murder after she accidentally pricked herself with a needle while treating a child. The mother watching on was worried and reported Rosemary. While the child wasn’t infected, thankfully, all hell broke loose when Rosemary’s HIV positive status was confirmed and made public. Rosemary was arrested and paraded in front of the media, who labelled her a ‘killer’ and a ‘murderer’.

Rosemary Namubiru: They were trying to manhandle me. They were taking photographs of me. They were calling me all sorts of names, ‘Murderer, killer. Look at this woman, a killer, a murderer.’ And it went all over the country in the national newspapers, in the English newspapers. ‘That murderer, the murderer. If we see her we shall beat her, we shall kill her.’ It was the talk of town. Even my village. Initially, they labelled it as ‘murder’. Then it was reduced, ‘attempted murder’, and then it was eventually changed into ‘negligence’.

Natasha Mitchell: Rosemary was publicly shamed, and sentenced to three years in prison for negligence.

Lawyer Dora Kiconco Musinguzi is the executive director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS or UGANET.

Dora Kiconco Musinguzi: Rosemary’s story sent so many chills across the country amongst people living with HIV. She was the headline of the news. ‘Killer nurse’. ‘Monster nurse’. She was treated so cruelly at the police, she was beaten, her hair was pulled, right, left, and centre, and that caused a lot of fear among people living with HIV. So we see discrimination written on walls, written in political statements, discrimination is still real, so that is where we are. That’s Uganda’s story currently.

Natasha Mitchell: Rosemary Namubiru was released at the end of 2014 after her case received international attention.

In the same year, Uganda introduced the HIV Prevention and Control Act. At face value it’s about controlling HIV, promoting testing and treatment, and preventing discrimination. Uganda’s not alone here, HIV specific criminal laws are on the increase worldwide, and also exist in America and Europe.

But Dora Kiconco Musinguzi and colleagues are leading a legal challenge in the Ugandan Constitutional Court against key parts of the law, including certain provisions that demand disclosure of your HIV status, and criminalise those who transmit the virus intentionally.

Dora Kiconco Musinguzi: The question is at what point do you establish intention. In a circumstance where we have so many people that have not yet tested, how do you know that a person infected another? So anybody could blame the other for infecting them, and what should be a human condition, a disease, then becomes a criminal object and lives break, and families break, and you know how the media picks on this, and totally takes it out of context. We believe it’s going to be really dangerous.

Natasha Mitchell: At least half of the Ugandan population still don’t know their HIV status. And Dora Kinconco Musinguzi believes the HIV Prevention and Control Act will exacerbate their reluctance to get tested and treated and so cause the virus to spread.

Dora Kiconco Musinguzi: So if people fear, relate HIV testing with obligation, with imprisonment, with undue power of the law, we believe this is going to create a bigger barrier to testing, and that fails the objective of prevention and control because then we shall have more people left out of the treatment area.

Natasha Mitchell: And because pregnant women have to be tested for HIV, they’re at greater risk under this law.

Dora Kiconco Musinguzi: They are going to be found to be HIV positive fast, and if they don’t disclose then they are in the ambit of attempting to transmit, so that makes the women criminals. So there’s lots of unanswered questions. And yet on the other side science has given us hope that people who test and take their medicines very well, they become less infectious, so they don’t transmit HIV. The law neglects this science. The law does not consider what public health specialists are saying, but the Ugandan government has not put this into consideration.

Natasha Mitchell: The experience of Rosemary Namubiru is a cautionary lesson about why laws that criminalise HIV positive people can be so bad for public health.

Dora Kiconco Musinguzi: You shouldn’t be criminalised. These cases could be handled in another way. We are really asking the Constitutional Court to find out whether this is the law that will present and control HIV, and still afford dignity and non-discrimination for living with HIV.

Natasha Mitchell: Based on your experience, Rosemary, what do you feel about the criminalisation law in Uganda against people with HIV?

Rosemary Namubiru: It hurts. Ignorance kills, but it hurts when people just carry on, and people keep on saying, ‘Oh, that one, that one.’ Me, I didn’t get it sexually. It was during the course of saving lives of human beings, so it is not something to laugh about. I wouldn’t wish anybody to go through what I went through.

Natasha Mitchell: Rosemary Namubiru. She’s now retired from nursing.

US: Mainstream criminal justice website uses quiz format to highlight how unjust HIV criminalisation is in the United States

Is It Time to Roll Back the Laws on Spreading HIV?

Take our quiz on which criminal penalties remain in force.