Addressing the implications of HIV criminalization for women
J. Kehler1, E.T. Crone2
1AIDS Legal Network, Cape Town, South Africa, 2ATHENA, Seattle, WA, United States
Issues: Recently, laws that specifically criminalize HIV transmission and exposure have been enacted, or are pending, in parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. At the same time, particularly in Europe and North America, existing criminal laws are increasingly being used to prosecute people for transmitting or exposing others to HIV. In addition to criminalizing the transmission of HIV, these laws sometimes call for mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women, as well as for non-consensual partner disclosure by healthcare providers; further exacerbating the impact of such legislation on women.
Description: The call to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by a well-intentioned wish to protect women, and to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries, coupled with the perceived failure of existing HIV prevention efforts. While these concerns are legitimate and must be urgently addressed, closer analysis reveals that criminalization does not prevent new HIV infections or reduce women's vulnerabilities to HIV. In fact, criminalization harms women, rather than assists them, while negatively impacting on both public health and human rights.
Lessons learned: Applying criminal law to HIV exposure or transmission does not address the epidemic of gender-based violence or the deep economic, social, and political inequalities that are at the root of women's and girls' disproportionate vulnerability to HIV. On the contrary, applying criminal law to HIV exposure or transmission is likely to heighten the risk of violence and abuse women face; strengthen prevailing gendered inequalities in healthcare and family settings; further promote fear and stigma; and, increase women's vulnerability to HIV and related rights violations.
Next steps: In order to address this emerging trend, we seek to:
1) Raise awareness, particularly among women's organizations
2) Catalyze civil society engagement with parliamentarians and relevant bodies
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