AIDS 2014 advocates call for repeal of 19a
Advocates have called for the repeal of the Victorian Crime Act 19a. Speaking at a press conference at AIDS 2014 on the barrier criminalisation of HIV transmission provides in the quest to end HIV, activists urged for the termination of HIV criminal statutes.
Edwin Bernard from the HIV Justice Network has been monitoring non-intentional HIV transmission for years. He reminded the panel that non-disclosure is a crime in 70-plus countries in the world, 50 of which have HIV specific laws (one of whom is Australia) and many of these governments have prosecuted.
“The UN Global Commission said there should be no HIV transmission criminal laws, but still there are new laws being enacted all around the globe,” Bernard said.
Sean Strub, founder of Poz magazine and director of Sero Project has launched a network of survivors of people who have been prosecuted for HIV crimes. Strub said he’d documented around a 1000 incidents. “Some were for spitting, biting, scratching - where HIV is not even transmitted – yet people are sometimes being sentenced to decades of imprisonment.”
Strub said it was apparent that HIV criminalisation was a driver for new infections. “In over 25 percent of new infections, people had been afraid to be tested for fear of criminalisation. There was an old saying ‘take the test, risk arrest’.
Strub described HIV criminalisation as a public health issue. “When seen in public health terms it becomes clear why it is important to change these laws.”
US senator Matt McCoy spoke of how his state, Iowa, had recently reformed their HIV criminal statutes, saying how the senate had realised the erroneous problems within the law and the need to modernize and reform.
It was heartening news to local activists from VAC and Positive Living. Bolstered by Minister David Davis’ commitment yesterday to amend 19a, Victoria AIDS Council executive officer Simon Ruth welcomed Davis’ remarks but suggested the VAC was pushing for a repeal of the law.
“19a is the only specific HIV crimes act in Australia and the VAC sees it as a health issue not a criminal issue, it should be removed,” Ruth said.
“Studies show laws such as this discourage people from disclosing because of legal risk. All governments have invested in treatment campaigns - but laws such as this discourage people from choosing to be tested. So we want 19a repealed, not amended, and dealt with as a public health issue.”
Ruth stressed one of the most important points he wanted to make was that he wasn't asking for complete decriminalisation of HIV transmission but that it should be treated equally.
“It should be subjected to the same laws, the same ways. The laws should only be applied in cases of malicious intentional transmission of HIV. We have well-respected public health law that minimises harm.
“Reflexively you may think criminalization will help public health - but it causes stigma - and it cause media reporting that is sensationalised. And often people are suffering under that stigma which leads to more mental health problems, which can put them in front of the law. It’s a vicious circle,” added Strub.
“We have had careful legal analysis of this process,” said Ruth. “We have a policy brief on our website - we are 100 percent confident to take it out of the crimes act once and for all and we think by amending it, it may become broader and could become worse not better.
“We welcome the announcement [by Davis] but we want to work with the government and bipartisan parties to achieve the best possible outcomes for people with HIV and those in fear of HIV transmission.”