VICTORIA’S two main HIV and AIDS organisations have released a joint statement urging their state government to reform its HIV-specific criminal law.

In a joint policy discussion paper focusing on the repeal of section 19A of the Victorian Crimes Act, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria (LPV) stated that reform needed to happen in order to achieve the goal of eliminating HIV transmissions by 2020.

VAC chief executive Simon Ruth said section 19A was the only HIV-specific criminal law in Australia and carries a 25 year maximum penalty for intentional HIV transmission.

“Section 19A… is a remnant of a time when HIV infection was almost invariably fatal,” he said.

“Today, with improvements to HIV treatments that ensure people with HIV can lead healthy, productive lives, section 19A serves no useful purpose.”

While rarely prosecuted, the two organisations stated that section 19A falsely characterises people living with HIV as a threat to public safety, and that it contributed to the stigmatisation of HIV and people living with HIV.

They also said that this stigma was one factor that discouraged people from being tested, seeking treatment, and disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners.

“Studies have shown that criminalising HIV has no positive impact on people’s sexual risk taking. In fact it can have a negative impact by forcing HIV underground, and discouraging people from disclosing their status,” said Paul Kidd, who is the chair of the VAC/LPV HIV Legal Working Group.

International organisations, including UNAIDS and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, have also strongly condemned the use of criminal laws as a way to control HIV.

“The eyes of the world will be on us when the International AIDS Conference starts in Melbourne in just a few days’ time,” Ruth said.

“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.”

LPV and VAC are also calling for an end to HIV criminal prosecutions in all but the most extreme cases, and a renewed emphasis on the public health process.

“We have the opportunity to bring an end to the HIV epidemic in Victoria within a few years, but we must act to reduce HIV stigma and ensure that HIV is treated as an issue of public health, not public safety,” Kidd said.

“We are calling on all political parties to commit to repeal section 19A and review the treatment of HIV within the criminal justice system.

“Section 19A is a relic of the past, and today it is doing more harm than good. It’s time for it to go.”

A PDF copy of Policy Brief: Repeal of Section 19A is attached, or can be downloaded from livingpositivevictoria.org.au/repeal19A

 

 

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