The South Australian and Western Australian governments have introduced legislation that allows people to be forced tested for blood-borne viruses (BBVs).
The laws have been introduced as a result of police advocacy in an effort to provide officers who might have been exposed to a BBV with ‘peace of mind’. While the scope of legislation differs in each state, in both instances police will be allowed to forcibly test someone who has spat at or bitten an officer.
This is flawed policy on a number of levels. The so-called ‘spitters and biters’ laws not only stigmatise people living with HIV but also perpetuate transmission misunderstandings. Saliva is not among the bodily fluids through which HIV is transmissible and the risk of contracting HIV from a bite is negligible. Despite the large number of police who have been previously exposed, there is not a single recorded case of HIV transmission through biting or spitting in Australia.
Even if a positive BBV result is returned, it cannot establish whether a police officer has indeed contracted the virus. And as there is a window period for HIV tests, conversely, a negative result is not a conclusive all-clear. The new laws undermine Australia’s basic legal principles of assault. HIV testing exceeds the legal boundaries of ‘examining’ a person and is a marked infringement on an individual’s human rights and civil liberties.
There is also a chance that individuals who test positive may be charged under general criminal laws. Widening the scope of the criminalisation of HIV is of great concern. There is a worry, too, that similar legislation will extend to other states. Indeed, the Police Association of NSW has recently called for powers to force anyone who ‘transmits’ a bodily fluid to an emergency worker to be tested for infectious diseases — including blood-borne viruses.
Related content: Police and BBVs.