Impacts of Criminalization on the Everyday Lives of People Living with HIV in Canada

Abstract

Over the last decade, there have been a rising number of prosecutions for nondisclosure of HIV status along with heightened media attention to the issue in Canada. One hundred twenty-two people living with HIV were interviewed concerning the effects of criminalization on their sense of personal security and their romantic and sexual relationships. The largest number of respondents believe that criminalization has unfairly shifted the burden of proof so that they: are held to be guilty until proven innocent; are now caught in a difficult he-said/(s)he-said situation of having to justify their actions, disgruntled partners now have a legal weapon to wield against them regardless of the facts and the onus now falls on women whose male partners could ignore their wishes regarding safer sex. In terms of general impact, many respondents report: a heightened sense of uncertainty, fear or vulnerability, but others feel that the climate of acceptance is still better than in the early days of the epidemic or that the prosecution of the high profile cases is justified. The increasing focus of the court system on penalizing non-disclosure is having counter-productive or unanticipated consequences that can run contrary to the ostensible objective of discouraging behaviour likely to transmit HIV.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A reference to an identifier imposed on gay prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps.

  2. 2.

    On the HIV stigma campaign, see Adam et al. 2011. The tagline of the campaign posed the question: “If you were rejected every time you disclosed, would you?”

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Acknowledgments

This study was made possible with the assistance of Robb Travers, Sean Rourke and Jason Globerman; advisory committee members Murray Jose, Rick Kennedy, Frank McGee, Eric Mykhalovskiy, Fanta Ongoiba, Ryan Peck, John Plater, Michael Sobota and James Watson and support by a grant from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network.

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Correspondence to Barry D. Adam.

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Adam, B.D., Elliott, R., Corriveau, P. et al. Impacts of Criminalization on the Everyday Lives of People Living with HIV in Canada. Sex Res Soc Policy 11, 39–49 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-013-0131-8

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Keywords

  • HIV transmission
  • Criminal justice
  • People living with HIV
  • Canada