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Supporting science against criminalisation

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31 Jul 2018

The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) applauds the scientific community’s call to the criminal justice system to ensure science informs the application of the law in criminal cases related to HIV. The declaration — contained in an Expert Consensus Statement released at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam last week — urges the criminal justice system to rely on the best science when considering prosecution of HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission.

Backed by 20 of the world’s top HIV scientists, the Consensus Statement (which cites the Australian-led study, Opposites Attract) contains the latest medical and scientific evidence around HIV transmission. All-too often, people with HIV are prosecuted for acts that pose no risk of HIV exposure or transmission. The group of scientists warn that an overly broad and inappropriate application of criminal law against people with HIV only perpetuates fear and ignorance of HIV transmission.

Around 73 countries worldwide currently have laws that criminalise HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. Many of these laws do not take into account biomedical advancements that reduce the risk of HIV transmission through sexual activity to virtually zero. The science is very clear: when taking effective anti-HIV medication, a person with HIV cannot transmit the virus to a sexual partner. However, the modern reality of living with HIV is frequently misunderstood, misrepresented or ignored within the criminal justice system worldwide.

"NAPWHA welcomes the release of the Expert Consensus Statement and hopes that the document will persuade prosecutors and courts to carefully appraise current scientific evidence when considering criminal prosecution of people with HIV," said NAPWHA President Cipri Martinez.

"The Statement supports and builds on the conclusions of a similar Australian Medical Consensus Statement published in 2016 which found that criminal cases involving HIV transmission or exposure require that courts correctly comprehend the rapidly evolving science of HIV transmission so as to prevent further misuse of the criminal law and the continued stigmatisation of people with HIV."