Calls for the Victorian government to repeal criminalisation of HIV transmission
The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria (LPV) have called for the Victorian Government to reform criminal laws in regard to the transmission of HIV.
Section 19A is the only HIV-specific criminal law in Australia that criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, and carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.
Paul Kidd, chair of the HIV Legal Working Group, has expressed the that current law stigmatises people with HIV.
“The fact there is a law that sets out HIV transmission as a particularly kind of serious harm, and the fact that it carries a penalty that is higher than practically every other offence in the statue book [is quite damaging],” Kidd said.
“It’s the same as armed robbery, aggravated rape, and manslaughter, whereas other kinds of violence are treated more leniently,” he said.
“It sets up the idea that HIV is particularly harmful, which is false, and it also sets up the idea that people with HIV are a threat to the community, and we know that’s false too.”
Respected international organisations, including UNAIDS and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, have strongly condemned the use of criminal laws as a way to control HIV.
HIV-specific laws, such as section 19A, have been especially criticised as counterproductive to HIV prevention efforts.
The VAC and LPV are hopeful that the AIDS 2014 Conference will bring the discussion into the spotlight and encourage the Victorian Government to repeal the outdated law.
“We’ve released the report ahead of the conference, and obviously we do think the presence of the conference will shine a light on HIV across the board and our criminal laws are part of that and criminalisation of HIV is likely a key area for the conference,” Kidd said.
“We think that section 19A will stand out as an embarrassment to the Victorian Government and we think the opportunity is there for the government to commit to change it.”
Simon Ruth, CEO of VAC, said law reform for HIV transmission would complement the state and national strategies to reduce HIV transmissions.
“The latest Australian HIV Strategy, released earlier this week, includes bold new targets including the elimination of new HIV transmissions by 2020. Now is the right time to address those criminal laws that impede our shared commitment to end HIV,” Ruth said.
The law was first introduced to cover instances such as the deliberate transmission of HIV by a blood-filled syringe, and has never been enacted in such cases.
The only person to be convicted under Section 19A was Michael Neale, who was found guilty in 2011 of lying about his HIV status and infecting many men.
“Section 19A is a remnant of a time when HIV infection was almost invariably fatal,” Ruth said.
“Today -with improvements to HIV treatments that ensure people with HIV can lead healthy, productive lives - section 19A serves no useful purpose.”