Recent years have seen the creation—particularly in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean—of HIV-specific laws that criminalize HIV transmission and exposure. At the same time, particularly in Europe and North America, existing criminal laws are increasingly being used to prosecute people for transmitting HIV or exposing others to HIV infection.
The push to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by the wish to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries, coupled by what is perceived to be a failure of existing HIV prevention efforts. These concerns are legitimate. Recently, particularly in Africa, some groups have begun to advocate for criminalization in response to the serious phenomenon of women being infected with HIV through sexual violence or by partners who do not reveal their HIV diagnoses to them.
While these issues must be urgently addressed, a closer analysis of the complex issues raised by criminalization of HIV exposure or transmission reveals that criminalization is unlikely to prevent new infections or reduce women's vulnerability to HIV. In fact, it may harm women rather than assist them, and negatively impact both public health and human rights.
This document, co-produced by the Open Society Foundations, provides ten reasons why criminalizing HIV exposure or transmission is generally an unjust and ineffective public policy. It has been endorsed by leading human rights, AIDS, and women’s organizations and networks throughout the world. The document is part of a broader campaign on AIDS and human rights.