Screening laws introduced

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02 Jun 2015

Although police are routinely blood tested should they become exposed to ‘biological material’, legislation now exists in SA and WA forcing people who assault police to be screened for bloodborne viruses (BBVs). 

The so-called ‘spitters and biters’ laws have been introduced to provide police with ‘peace of mind’. But an assailant testing positive for HIV does not establish that an officer has contracted the virus. Conversely, a negative result is not a conclusive all-clear. 

Leaving aside for the moment that such powers further stigmatise PLHIV, these laws also highlight an ignorance of how HIV is transmitted: saliva is not among the bodily fluids through which HIV is transmissible. As for contracting HIV from a bite, the risk is negligible: among the large number of police who have been exposed to such an assault, there is not a single recorded case of HIV transmission through this means in Australia.

Then there is the small matter of civil liberties to consider. HIV testing exceeds the legal boundaries of ‘examining’ a person and clearly constitutes an infringement of human rights. And what if a person resists being tested? Are they to be held indefinitely until a court orders them to comply? Details are sketchy.

Worryingly, a precedent seems to have been set. 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 HIV. Such laws risk taking us back to the dark ages when PLHIV were perceived to be a danger to society.