Anxiety about HIV criminalisation among people living with HIV in Australia

Anxiety about HIV criminalisation among people living with HIV in Australia

Data from HIV Futures – a national periodic survey of health and wellbeing of people living with HIV conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society of La Trobe University was used to examine the relationship between criminal laws and quality of life for people living with HIV. The paper concluded that laws criminalising the transmission of HIV have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV in Australia.

“HIV Futures involves over 800 people living with HIV across Australia focusing on a range of issues related to health and wellbeing,” explains co-author Dr Jennifer Power, elaborating that in this paper we [the co-authors] found an association between greater levels of worry about HIV criminalisation and poorer mental health.

HIV activist, lawyer, and paper co-author Paul Kidd continues, “In the study, we found that people who reported higher levels of anxiety about criminalisation also reported lower levels of resilience and a greater sense of vulnerability to HIV-related stigma”.

Although the vast majority of people with HIV understand and comply with laws about disclosure and taking reasonable precautions, a third of HIV Futures respondents said they were worried about disclosing their status to partners due to the risk of criminalisation. Almost a quarter of respondents were concerned about disclosure to service providers for the same reason.

“That suggests a level of fear and anxiety about unjust prosecution and profound negative impacts. Importantly, anxiety about criminalisation was higher among groups that are already marginalised, including people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and those experiencing financial hardship.”

NAPWHA co-author, Dr John Rule continues, “We’ve always understood that criminalisation of HIV and recourse to the legal system leads to problematic outcomes that are not based in known, successful public health approaches.”

There are a number of things we can do to respond to these findings. Improving awareness of the criminal law among people with HIV and ensuring people are aware of the requirements in their Australian State or Territory could help allay concerns. Improving peer support, especially for people newly diagnosed or those from more marginalised communities is equally as important. But ultimately, fears and anxieties about HIV criminalisation will only be eliminated when we end the criminalisation of un-intentional transmission and exposure. That needs to be the end goal.

Dr Jennifer Power, the leader of the study reminds us, “It is important that we use findings from studies such as HIV Futures to reflect on the ways existing policy and service delivery affects the 30,000 Australians who are living with HIV. The paper on criminalisation demonstrates that research can be used to point towards policy changes and responses.”

Currently the HIV Futures 10 Survey is open until March 2022.
Participants can enroll and respond to a series of questions about their health and quality of life.

Further viewing: Paul Kidd — HIV and the Law

Presentation Synopsis

In this address at the Art of Art in May 2018, Paul Kidd explores: What is the role of the criminal law in relation to HIV medicine? Medical practitioners and other health care workers provide testing, diagnosis, counsel and care – but the use of the criminal law to prosecute people with HIV means health professionals may also find themselves entangled in a criminal investigation. What should we tell patients about their rights and responsibilities when it comes to HIV transmission or exposure? Taking medical and legal notions of consent as its starting point, this presentation will explore the complex and problematic impacts of HIV criminalisation on medical practice and the lives of people living with HIV, discuss the unrealised potential for the criminal law to be a healing process, and provide some guidance for practitioners who need to balance their roles as health providers with the legalities of HIV transmission and exposure.


Paul Kidd is an activist, writer and commentator with a particular interest in LGBTI law reform and legal issues affecting people living with blood-borne viruses. He was the founding chair of the Victorian HIV Legal Working Group, is a past President of Living Positive Victoria, has served on the boards of the Victorian AIDS Council, Hepatitis Victoria and the Equality Project, and is a member of the Victorian Government LGBTI Justice Working Group. He holds an honours degree in law from La Trobe Law School.

Further viewing: Aaron Cogle — HIV Criminalisation

Video:  In this address at the 2021 Virtual Australasian HIV&AIDS Conference, Aaron Cogle (NAPWHA CEO) presents on HIV criminalisation in a symposia entitled ‘Regulating Sex.’ 

Further viewing: Guide to the Legal issues within Victoria (by Living Positive Victoria)

Video:  Watch the video recording of the Living Positive Victoria online launch in August 2021 of a guide to disclosing your HIV status, featuring inspiring and compelling stories of disclosure from members of their community.

Not Guilty: Living with HIV and the law

Join ‘Not Guilty: Living with HIV and the law’, NAPWHA’s breakfast panel supported by Gilead Sciences, an associated event of the 2019 Australasian HIV&AIDS Conference held in Perth, 6.30am – 8.30am on Thursday 19 September 2019. This breakfast discussion provides an opportunity for multi-disciplinary delegates to hear and gain insight and current information from leaders in the field working in the field of HIV criminalisation in Australia and the region. Evidence shows criminalisation does not reduce HIV transmission, and the resulting stigma and discrimination build higher barriers to effective health promotion. Current laws in certain Australian jurisdictions and in the region counteract the promotion of effective prevention and shared responsibility, and the uptake of HIV testing and treatment, and therefore undermine effective public health. In joining the breakfast panel, attendees can:

  • Gain an understanding, from people who can influence the system, of the problematic nature of HIV criminalisation, in particular the negative impact on health outcomes for HIV positive people
  • Understand what the different approaches to HIV transmission reduction are in Policing and Justice and in Health and how these two are at odds with each other.
  • Gain an understanding of the reasons behind these differences
  • Be able to identify how the law plays into stigma and what the impact of this on people living with HIV (PLHIV)

Pictured L-R: Paul Kidd, Robert Mitchell (NAPWHA Board Director), Sally Cameron, Aaron Cogle, Edwin J Bernard, as part of the panel, also including Lisa Bastian and Jules Kim on issues concerning HIV decriminalisation.

Hear from the panel of experts:

Registration to this free event is essential. A complimentary buffet breakfast will be provided. Capacity is limited to 80 people. PLHIV will be prioritised places to this event at the discretion of NAPWHA. To register your place at this session by email:

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