During the last decade, more and more countries have begun using criminal laws to prosecute people for transmitting HIV or for exposing another person to the risk of contracting HIV (even when transmission does not take place). Hundreds of people living with HIV have been subjected to criminal investigation and prosecutions. Many have received jail sentences.
What is the Unlocking HIV project?
Unlocking HIV is a community film project based out of Hamilton, Ontario that linked a collective of media artists with people living with HIV in a creative, collaborative experience. Over 95% of the people involved in the project were HIV positive. The result was a collaborative production of a 55 min. media arts piece that sheds a first hand account and impact these issues have on people with HIV and their families. The film was previewed to a test audience on Nov. 28th, 2013 during Hamilton’s AIDS Awareness Week – followed by a panel discussion.
A 1998 Canada Supreme Court decision requires individuals who are HIV-positive to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners before engaging in activities that pose a risk of transmission. Since that time a total of 98 people have been charged. The current system has created a crisis of confusion and has caused people living with HIV to live their lives in fear of potential incarceration.
The risk of criminalization also discourages those living with the virus to be open about their HIV status and for people who are HIV – negative to delay testing for the virus. Many people remain concerned that even if they disclose their HIV status, their sexual partners might report them for non-disclosure given that it will come down to one person’s word against another. The result of these legal restrictions has increased the stigmatization experienced by people living with HIV.
The media coverage has tended to exaggerate the risks of HIV infection at a time when experts have come to think of it as a much more chronic manageable infection. Further, the criminalization of this disease is now starting to occur with other STI’s, with several cases of Herpes and Hepatitis presently before the Canadian courts.
Presently a person charged with these offenses (even though they may prove to be innocent) can have their picture, name, address and HIV status released to the media and community as a “precautionary” measure.