In 2004, parliamentarians from 12 countries in West and Central Africa created legislation that criminalized HIV transmission in an attempt to reduce HIV infection rates. Since that time, such legislation has been adopted as national law in 15 African countries, and 34 states in the U.S. have prosecuted HIV positive individuals for not disclosing their status.
However, according to UNAIDS, there are no data indicating that the application of criminal law to HIV transmission will either achieve criminal justice or prevent new HIV infections. Rather, such an application risks undermining public health and human rights, as former IWHC staff and partners argued in this 2009 article published in Reproductive Health Matters.
“Women,” said IWHC Africa Program Officer Frederica Stines in yesterday’s Michigan Messenger , “will be the overwhelming victims of this criminalization creep.” She went on to point out that they are more likely to know their HIV status; more likely to be the victims of rape; more likely to be thrown out of their homes because of their status; and less likely to be able to insist on condom use.
“Criminalizing is not prevention,” said Stines. “Who wants to know their status if they could be arrested?”
For women, criminalization is a poor substitute for policies that attack the root of vulnerability to infection: inequality and gender-based violence.