Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Criminalisation of HIV & the SERO Project

Here are two  U.S. organisations that can sometimes offer legal help and can certainly offer advice and support for those facing prosecution for HIV transmission and/or failure to disclose a HIV+ status.
If anyone has any further links to resourses on this, especially in the UK, please post them below as a comment


( Thank you to
Laurel Sprague for these links)

I realise there are some, or even many , both HIV positive and HIV negative who will not like the campaigns to de- criminalise HIV. And not understand why I post so much about supporting them.

Often because they acquired HIV from someone, often a long term partner or even a spouse, who had HIV, infected them without giving them the chance to have the knowledge to know they had to protect themselves, or know others for whom this was the case.

I understand this

My husband of over 20+ years passed HIV to me. No he did not know he had HIV, but he did know he had been unfaithful and had not fully protected himself and come home to me and not had a test and had sex with me without any attempt to protect me ( just in case)  and I did not know to have a test or  have a test, not that time anyway, I had in the past.

I had not been tested for HIV and all STIs regularly for many years  because he had ever said he was unfaithful, but I was tested regularly - just in case - up until my menopause. I don't know why hitting the menopause meant I stopped feeling it necessary to get tested, I think maybe I saw it psychologically as marking us getting older and ageing together and if he had not been unfaithful up to then I simply thought it would never happen now. And I had always been faithful and knew I always would be.

But menopause held another factor in why I acquired HIV. Because I had long only used barrier contraception as I no longer wanted to take hormones or have anything inserted in my body. However when I reached menopause I no longer saw any need for condoms.

Although he did not know he had acquired HIV, it could be argued that he did not he had put himself at risk and hence me and had not informed me of that risk. And some even in these circumstances have tried to get a prosecution and indeed I was urged by some to try to prosecute my husband. Many saying to me he knew he had taken the risk and I did not and how could I be sure he had not lied to me about being HIV poz, as he was a seaman he could have been tested abroad and if he had lied about being unfaithful he could have lied about knowing he had HIV and even if he had not with a good lawyer I could perhaps have argued he knew he had taken a risk .

Very early on in our diagnosis I thought deeply about this and the suggestion I should try to prosecute my husband and met a few through my local charity, and on line, who were trying or had tried to prosecute their partners in similar circumstances.

But I decided, and of my own back as at that point I had never read any of the information re criminalisation of HIV, NOT to do this.

After careful consideration and apart from my own circumstances, the feelings of anger and betrayal and deep sadness I had at first,   I found my view were that  criminalisation of HIV is counterproductive to eliminating stigma, prevention and testing and prevention and stigma, testing is what I am most concerned about, right from the first day of my diagnosis.

And of course I love and know my husband well and as I have stayed with him, know why he did not tell me about the risk he had taken, and how and why  he felt he had no option but to not tell me, and I have known and shared the pain he has gone through that he passed HIV to me, whether he had any idea he had it or not, he has suffered .

And don't forget he has HIV too, about 4 years ago he was days from death with HIV caused PCP and other infections, he now has Prostrate cancer. He is suffering, he is not a criminal.
Nor are any of us who live with HIV

But even if I had not and even if he had known, I quickly realised that there are many, and very complicated, reasons for everyone HIV+ why someone may not disclose and a huge part of those reasons are much to do with the stigma discrimination and fear of criminalisation that all with HIV live with and that surround HIV. These are not all the reasons, but many of the reasons actually have their base in those areas.

So I decided criminalising anyone with HIV is ultimately criminalisation ANYONE of us that has the HIV virus

And that it will not help us - except on a very person level of revenge and perhaps closure for what specifically happened to us.

But on a wider level it will achieve nothing except further stigma, further infections and less testing.

Yes perhaps there is a case for prosecuting those very few that knowingly, deliberately or recklessly take risks that may lead to another acquiring HIV, and that intent, or sheer recklessness can be proved beyond doubt. There is evil in every group and some may deserve to be prosecuted? but I am not sure words like deserve, or even blame is helpful to be used in general when it comes to HIV.

But if the law in any country allows for that then it must be very clear and defined as to when a viable prosecution can be made, and perhaps like in the UK it not be under a specific law for HIV transmission and disclosure, but under laws that apply to anyone that deliberately or recklessly harms or hurts another. But even this could be counter productive.

It is about the well being of the whole, the majority, not the individual or individuals personal situations I believe we have to consider here.
Because I just do not believe the majority of people that live with HIV, even those who infect their partners knowing they have or they may have HIV, are evil, cruel or even always thoughtless people.

I simply do not believe that there are many at all who want to be responsible for passing on to anyone a potentially life threatening and life changing virus. And I certainly do not feel that those that have sex but do not pass it on, use protection, or are sure that their infection is under control i.e on treatment and undetectable yet do not disclose are evil or even criminal either.

I think like all with HIV they, like us all, are victims of the huge stigma that surrounds this virus.

All who live with HIV, however well they cope are caught up in huge and often scary, social, emotional and personal, pressure or even peer group pressure and in some cases – many woman HIV+ all over the world have faced this and men too – a fear of or actual violence towards them should they disclose or ostracisation
from their communities, families, society, fear of how their life will change if it gets known they have HIV, their jobs, income, accommodation, access to their children..... the list is very long of the reasons why someone many not disclose their HIV+ status or indeed actually have unprotected sex even with a very loved one and perhaps pass HIV to them, them is very long and complicated.

And it has to be remembered that the incidence of mental health issues, depression, etc of those that live with HIV are FAR higher than the average population.

This is not that those who randomly acquire this virus are necessarily more prone to mental health issues. It is a reflection of the often constant and terrible stress, conflicts and mental strain that living with HIV involves for many people. Much of theses stresses have roots in stigma, and fear and of course living with a potentially life threatening illness. Even now, even since the newer ARV drugs, people still die

    A stigma that does not surround, any more at least,  many other illness, pathogens, conditions, and should not HIV. And criminalising all of us who have HIV will not lessen this, for individuals or us all, it will only increase it.

Yesterday I spent the day with some people who have Hep C, which may - and I did think this -  be thought to be the same in terms of disclosure and carry the same stigma. But while some cant disclose most have no problem with saying they live with Hep C, and one who is co-infected said they can and do tell anyone about having Hep C, but they can not be open about HIV.

Hep C is not criminalised. I think this is part of the explanation of the difference for many of those living with Hep C. Just like HPV , another potentially fatal virus that is sexually transmitted it is not criminalised or stigmatised in general.
HIV carried great stigma and criminalisation is counter productive to treatment, prevention, testing........just about everything regarding HIV.

I am not alone in believing this.
Much social research has been done that point to this being the case.

Also I know, online and have met many personally, who were infected by their partners and some knowing they had the virus, that may have wanted to prosecute and were very angry, wanted revenge, retribution, personal closure and wanted to do it via the law, and thought to prosecute was a way of ensuring that it did not happen to others or it happened less, that now support this campaign to de-criminalise HIV, all over the world.

I don’t ask that anyone agrees with me. And I understand all too well the personal anger and feeling that you want them to suffer or you want your day in court. For it to be publicly proved by law that you were a victim when you were infected or felt you were at risk of being infected by lack of disclosure by your partner for whatever reason, To be exonerated of all blame that society puts on you for your own infection and by the use of law. And of course many other reasons why you may want your day in court.

Just believe me I was very angry with my husband and felt all these things.

But it is my view that NONE of us should be victims of blame for having this virus, which it is a virus, not a thinking entity and by criminalisation and blame it perpetuates stigma and thus perpetuates the virus being able to thrive and be passed on. As the virus is more likely to be passed on to others in a atmosphere of stigma, fear and blame.

I won’t go on further
I don’t expect anyone to agree with me.
All I am asking is to try to put your own personal circumstances aside, leave your own pain and hurt for a while and read the many arguments for and against criminalisation of HIV.

And decide what is best for everyone, the whole population of the world that are HIV+ or potentially could become HIV+.

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