US: Second HIV is not a crime training academy creates an important intersectional shift in the US anti-HIV criminalisation movement

The second HIV Is Not a Crime Training Academy, which took place in May at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, brought together more than 300 advocates from 34 US states, as well delegations from Canada and Mexico.

Organised jointly by two of our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, the Sero Project and Positive Women’s Network–USA, the meeting was a unique opportunity for the people most affected by HIV criminalisation to take centre stage and have their voices be heard.

As Mark S King’s blog post highlighted in his blog and video produced the week following the meeting:

The intersections of race, gender, and sexuality were given as much weight as strategy sessions on working with legislators and lawyers, and the program repeatedly drove home the fact that criminalizing behaviors related to specific groups of people is as American as apple pie. Plenary speakers included advocates for women (including transgender women), current and former sex workers, immigration reform and drug legalization advocates, and, most powerfully, people who have been prosecuted under HIV criminalization statutes.

The theme of intersectionality and what it means for HIV criminalisation advocacy was further explored in this thoughtful analysis from Olivia Ford at The Body.com.

At the first HIV Is Not a Crime gathering in Grinnell, Iowa, in 2014, the sessions focused largely on unpacking the process of mounting a legislative campaign. Huntsville attendees also received training on important skills such as using data and collaborating with attorneys. The dominant theme, however, was the mandate to understand and combat HIV criminalization as a component of the system of over-policing and mass incarceration that disproportionately and unjustly impacts black people, queer folks, immigrants, drug users, sex workers, transgender individuals and those living with and without HIV at the intersections of this constellation of experiences.

The meeting was also an opportunity to celebrate the recent modernisation of Colorado’s HIV criminalisation statutes by the Colorado Mod Squad and their political allies, notably Senator Pat Steadman; and to hear from HIV criminalisation survivors and their families about what the HIV criminalisation – and the movement to end it – means for them personally.

The biggest political coup of the meeting was a welcome video from Hilary Clinton who said that if she wins the Presidential election, she will work to “reform outdated, stigmatising” HIV criminalisation laws.

Aside from those highlighted above, a number of other blog posts and articles have been produced since the meeting.  As well as a fantastic Storify compilation by PWN-USA of social media produced during the four days, these include pieces from:

In addition, the HIV Justice Network was there with our video advocacy consultant, Nicholas Feustel of georgetown media, capturing the entire event on video, and we will be releasing a film providing a detailed overview of the entire meeting, as well as lessons learned, in the next few weeks.

HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, SERO Project and PWN-USA, bring together advocates from U.S. & 4 countries to 2nd National HIV Is Not a Crime Training Academy at University of Alabama-Huntsville

Advocates from 34 states & 4 other countries convene at University of Alabama-Huntsville to strategize Addressing Discriminatory HIV Laws at 2nd National HIV Is Not a Crime Training Academy.

Even as a bill repealing Colorado’s HIV criminalization laws awaits the governor’s pen, much work remains to be done to bring laws up to date with current science in at least 33 states.

Eleven states have laws on the books that can send people living with HIV to prison for behaviors (such as biting and spitting) that carry virtually no risk of transmitting HIV. Forty-four states have prosecuted people living with HIV for perceived exposure or transmission; most states permit prosecution even when no transmission has occurred, and actual risk is negligible.

In Texas, a man living with HIV is currently serving a 35-year sentence for spitting. In Idaho, Kerry Thomas is serving 30 years for allegedly not disclosing his HIV status to a partner – despite the fact that he took measures to prevent transmission, including using a condom and taking medications to maintain an undetectable viral load. Kerry Thomas’ accuser never acquired HIV. Yet his appeal was recently denied, demonstrating that current science continues not to matter to the courts.

“These laws make disclosure harder. Because we so fear the punishment, we just keep things bottled up inside,” says Monique Howell-Moree, who was prosecuted under a US military non-disclosure law and would have faced 8-12 years if convicted. “I didn’t know the best way to disclose … Had I had the support and knowledge that I have now back then, I would most definitely have done things differently.”

In her HIV/AIDS platform and in a recent meeting with activists, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for “reform[ing] outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws.” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has said the candidate is also “absolutely opposed” to these laws, according to the Washington Blade. The confluence of outdated laws, unjust prosecutions and profound disparities is bringing advocates and activists from 34 states and 4 countries together for the second national convening dedicated exclusively to strategizing to fight back in the name of human rights and public health.

WHAT: HIV Is Not a Crime II National Training Academy

WHERE: University of Alabama, Huntsville

WHEN: May 17-20, 2016

The Training Academy is co-organized by SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network-USA, two national networks of people living with HIV. It comes on the heels of a major victory in Colorado, where through the dedicated efforts of a group known as the “CO Mod Squad” (“mod” refers to “modernization” of the law), led by Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) Colorado, a bill was passed last week that updates laws to take account of current science and eliminates HIV criminalization language.

“With people living with HIV leading the way and our allies supporting us, we were able to do something many thought we couldn’t,” said Barb Cardell, co-chair of PWN-USA Colorado and one of the leaders of the successful efforts. “The law now focuses on proven methods of protecting public health — like education and counseling — while discarding the language of criminalization, which actually discourages testing, treatment and disclosure.”

“This law represents real progress for Coloradans, regardless of their HIV status,” she added. At the Training Academy this week, Cardell will share some highlights and lessons learned from the CO Mod Squad’s experience.

Keynote speakers at the Training Academy include Mary Fisher, who stunned the audience at the 1992 Republican National Convention with a speech about her experience as a woman living with HIV; Joel Goldman, longtime advocate and managing director of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; and Colorado state senator Pat Steadman, the senate sponsor of the bill just passed repealing HIV criminalization in his state. Session topics will explore best practices for changing policy, and will consider the intersections of HIV criminalization with issues ranging from institutional racism to transphobia, criminalization of sex work, mental illness and substance use, and overpolicing of marginalized communities.

“The goals of the Training Academy go beyond giving advocates the tools and know-how they need to change policy, to deepening our collective understanding of the impact of these laws and why they are enforced the way they are,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of PWN-USA. “We hope participants will leave better prepared to effect change by thinking differently, forging new partnerships and ensuring communities most heavily impacted by criminalization are in leadership in this movement.”

US: Blog post by HIV criminalisation survivor Monique Howell-Moree

My name is Monique Howell-Moree. As a survivor of HIV criminalization myself, I believe laws criminalizing HIV definitely need to be changed. I would have had to serve 8 to 12 years if I had been convicted, because my state, like most states, does not take into consideration current science of the risk transmission. Nobody wants to take the time to educate themselves and update themselves on what we now know about transmission risks– especially when someone is in care and taking care of themselves–and the result is unjust laws and prosecutions. Transmission rates when in care are so low compared to how things were in the ’80s and early ’90s, yet laws have not kept up with medical advances.

A lot of these laws are very outdated, and stigma is what is still keeping these laws alive. I believe that most states still live in fear of the unknown. They still have stigma circulating around their communities, and they refuse to bring about CHANGE. Ignorance and lack of knowledge are still prevalent in many states.

When I was on trial myself, not one person in the room knew much about HIV. If I was convicted I could have possibly lost my children, home, and would even have been labeled a sex offender. That’s not even fair, when so many other crimes are so much worse than this. HIV is not a death sentence, but people in many states still believe it is. If someone is intentionally trying to put their partner at risk, then yes, we do need to make sure there is a remedy, because of course we are trying to stop the spread of HIV. But if someone just is afraid, not educated and doesn’t have the support they need when disclosing their status, that’s when our local  ASOs and HIV organizations need to come together and show them how to say the right words and do the right thing when disclosing. Women are sometimes even in a violent relationship and fear the repercussions of disclosure, or are afraid to say the words that they need to say due to embarrassment or guilt.

These outdated laws also cause people to actually be afraid, because the laws are worded as if we are the worst people on this earth. People fear of losing their jobs, homes, children etc. These laws makes no sense, and the punishment definitely doesn’t fit the “crime.”

Many factors can play into why a individual discloses or does not disclose. If we can raise more awareness about HIV everywhere, even in the workforce, then maybe, just maybe, people’s views will evolve. Sharing our testimonials and allowing policymakers and the public to hear our hearts will also help. We must take responsibility for ourselves and also stand for what we believe is fair and right.

When I was charged, I had none of this type of support. Serving my country at the time in the Army, I only signed a form in tiny, tiny fine print saying to make sure I tell my status if I should engage in any sexual act, and that was it. Still afraid and fearing rejection, I didn’t know the best way to disclose, and didn’t even think I would get into another relationship after my diagnosis. Had I had the support and knowledge that I have now back then, I would have most definitely have done things differently. I wouldn’t have been ashamed of who I was, and I would have been honest and disclosed my status when involved in a sexual act.

Changing these laws will have a major impact on many HIV survivors. We shouldn’t have to live in fear of being who we are. Intentionally trying to cause harm is different from just needing support and help on how to disclose the proper way when necessary. We fear rejection, but the laws make disclosure even harder, because we so fear the punishment that we just keep things bottled up inside as a safe place. Disclosing can be tough. I’m a living witness to that; but we can help many if we continue to raise awareness on HIV criminalization. Many are behind bars for cases where no transmission had taken place, but HIV stigma makes the system want to lock us up, rather than educating policymakers and the public.

My sisters and brothers that are living with HIV: We must have each other’s backs and support one another, because the laws are definitely set up to pit us against a society that has not a clue that we are still human beings and deserve to be treated fairly and not as if we still live in the 1980s. So much has improved since then, and it’s time that we all take a stand to help get these laws changed!!!

Justice Edwin Cameron: ‘Why HIV criminalisation is bad policy and why I’m proud that advocacy against it is being led by people living with HIV’

[This is the foreword to Advancing HIV Justice 2: Buiding momentum in global advocacy against HIV criminalisation, which will be published by the HIV Justice Network and GNP+ tomorrow, Tuesday May 10th.]

 

Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, 35 long years ago, policymakers and politicians have been tempted to punish those of us with, and at risk of, HIV. Sometimes propelled by public opinion, sometimes themselves noxiously propelling public opinion, they have tried to find in punitive approaches a quick solution to the problem of HIV. One way has been to use HIV criminalisation – criminal laws against people living with HIV who don’t declare they have HIV, or to make potential or perceived exposure, or transmission that occurs when it is not deliberate (without “malice aforethought”), criminal offences.

Most of these laws are appallingly broad. And many of the prosecutions under them have been wickedly unjust. Sometimes scientific evidence about how HIV is transmitted, and how low the risk of transmitting the virus is, is ignored. And critical criminal legal and human rights principles are disregarded. These are enshrined in the International Guidelines on HIV and Human Rights. They are further developed by the UNAIDS guidance note, Ending overly-broad criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission: Critical scientific, medical and legal considerations. Important considerations, as these documents show, include foreseeability, intent, causality, proportionality, defence and proof.

The last 20 years have seen a massive shift in the management of HIV which is now a medically manageable disease. I know this myself: 19 years ago, when I was dying of AIDS, my life was given back to me when I was able to start taking antiretroviral medications. But despite the progress in HIV prevention, treatment and care, HIV continues to be treated exceptionally for one over-riding reason: stigma.

The enactment and enforcement of HIV-specific criminal laws – or even the threat of their enforcement – fuels the fires of stigma. It reinforces the idea that HIV is shameful, that it is a disgraceful contamination. And by reinforcing stigma, HIV criminalisation makes it more difficult for those at risk of HIV to access testing and prevention. It also makes it more difficult for those living with the virus to talk openly about it, and to be tested, treated and supported.

For those accused, gossiped about and maligned in the media, investigated, prosecuted and convicted, these laws can have catastrophic consequences. These include enforced disclosures, miscarriages of justice, and ruined lives.

HIV criminalisation is bad, bad policy. There is simply no evidence that it works. Instead, it sends out misleading and stigmatising messages. It undermines the remarkable scientific advances and proven public health strategies that open the path to vanquishing AIDS by 2030.

In 2008, on the final day of the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, I called for a sustained and vocal campaign against HIV criminalisation. Along with many other activists, I hoped that the conference would result in a major international pushback against misguided criminal laws and prosecutions.

The Advancing HIV Justice 2 report shows how far we have come. It documents how the movement against these laws and prosecutions – burgeoning just a decade ago – is gaining strength. It is achieving some heartening outcomes. Laws have been repealed, modernised or struck down across the globe – from Australia to the United States, Kenya to Switzerland.

For someone like me, who has been living with HIV for over 30 years, it is especially fitting to note that much of the necessary advocacy has been undertaken by civil society led by individuals and networks of people living with HIV.

Advancing HIV Justice 2 highlights many of these courageous and pragmatic ventures by civil society. Not only have they monitored the cruelty of criminal law enforcement, acting as watchdogs, they have also played a key role in securing good sense where it has prevailed in the epidemic. This publication provides hope that lawmakers intending to enact laws propelled by populism and irrational fears can be stopped. Our hope is that outdated laws and rulings can be dispensed with altogether.

Yet this report also reminds us of the complexity of our struggle. Our ultimate goal – to end HIV criminalisation using reason and science – seems clear. But the pathways to attaining that goal are not always straightforward. We must be steadfast. We must be pragmatic. Our response to those who unjustly criminalise us must be evidence-rich and policy-sound. And we can draw strength from history. Other battles appeared “unwinnable” and quixotic. Think of slavery, racism, homophobia, women’s rights. Yet in each case justice and rationality have gained the edge.

That, we hope and believe, will be so, too, with laws targeting people with HIV for prosecution.

Edwin Cameron, Constitutional Court of South Africa, May 2016.

US: One of six complainants in Texas Philippe Padieu case releases book, local news interviews her and Padieu

Seven Years Later: Perpetrator and Victim in HIV Trial Speak Out

Diane Reeve’s private life was laid bare in a very public trial several years ago, and with nothing left to hide she is releasing a book to share what she’s learned and to inspire others.

In “Standing Strong: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case That Made History,” Reeve talks about her relationship with Philippe Padieu and the trial that resulted in his conviction for having unprotected sex with multiple women without telling them he was infected with HIV.

Reeve dated Padieu for several years and thought their relationship was exclusive. She later led efforts to track down and coordinate women he’d infected with HIV and helped police and prosecutors build their case. She formed friendships with some of the other women.

“We kept a predator from continuing to victimize women,” Reeve said. “That’s the part of it that I feel most accomplished about, because he’s not out there anymore hurting anybody and I could not have lived with myself if I had allowed that to continue.”

Padieu is serving his 45-year prison sentence at a facility in Tennessee Colony, Texas, where he said he is part of a faith-based ministry and mostly keeps to himself.

He still believes his trial was unfair.

“I had no expert witness at my trial, I had no real attorney, I had a state appointed attorney,” Padieu said in a recent interview.

“My trial attorney died and I am filing habeus corpus on the second chair attorney,” Padieu said. “They pretty much sold me out – they didn’t investigate, they were useless, they just went with the prosecution version.”

Padieu is 60 years old, and is not eligible for parole until 2030.

Reeve said she did not write the book just to re-hash the trial, but also to raise awareness about the growing number of women being infected with HIV, and to inspire others who may find themselves in seemingly impossible situations.

“For a long time, I couldn’t touch it because it was too raw,” she said. “But I began to see the importance of making sure that the story got told for other people to help give them courage.”

Reeve launched the website Date Stronger to help women learn to protect themselves both physically and emotionally while dating, and “Standing Strong” is set for release in April.

See also http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Sex-As-a-Weapon-The-Movie.html

Canada: New film explores the impact of using sexual assault law to prosecute HIV non-disclosure

This week sees the release of an important new short film from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Consent: HIV non-disclosure and sexual assault law interrogates whether criminalising HIV non-disclosure does what the Supreme Court of Canada believes it does – protect sexual autonomy and dignity – or whether, in fact, it does injustice both to individuals charged and to the Canadian criminal justice system’s approach to sexual violence.

Produced together with Goldelox Productions, with whom the Legal Network also collaborated on their powerful 2012 documentary’ Positive Women: Exposing Injustice, this 28-minute film features eight experts in HIV, sexual assault and law whose commentary raises many questions about HIV-related legal developments in Canada.

At a time when society seems to be taking the prevalence of sexual

violence and rape culture more seriously, this film dares to ask some

difficult questions about its limits in the law. The law of sexual

assault is intended to protect women’s sexual autonomy, equality

and dignity, yet as applied with respect to alleged HIV non-disclosure,

these values are not necessarily being advanced. Through expert

testimonies, Consent shines a light on the systemic obstacles women

face in disclosing their HIV status, points to the dangerous health

and human rights outcomes of applying such a harsh charge as

aggravated sexual assault to HIV non-disclosure, and makes the

argument that the law needs to better protect those who are living

with and vulnerable to HIV. Consent demonstrates that advocacy

efforts opposing the overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure

must address the use of sexual assault law and that such efforts must

do so alongside feminist allies.

From: http://www.consentfilm.org/about-the-film/

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has for some time been exploring the implications of using sexual assault law to prosecute HIV non-disclosure cases, given the marked differences between the types of conduct that are typically referred to as sexual assault (including rape) and HIV non-disclosure cases.

In April 2014, the Legal Network convened leading feminist scholars, front-line workers, activists and legal experts for a ground-breaking dialogue on the (mis)use of sexual assault laws in cases of HIV non-disclosure. Consent: HIV non-disclosure and sexual assault law was filmed during this convening.

Their analysis demonstrates that the use of sexual assault law in the HIV non-disclosure context – where the sexual activity is consensual other than the non-disclosure – is a poor fit and can ultimately have a detrimental impact on sexual assault law as a tool to advance gender equality and renounce gender-based violence.

The Consent website ( in English / in French ) also lists future screenings across Canada, which will be accompanied by panels and workshops, as part of an ongoing strategy to build up allies among women’s rights advocates for the longer-term work.

A discussion guide will also soon be available.

Alone But Together
Women and Criminalisation of HIV

(15 min, Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights, Zimbabwe, 2014)

This video explains why overly broad HIV criminalisation harms women, and highlights the issue with an interview with a woman who is fighting her conviction for allegedly infecting her husband.