Back to contents

Disclosure

Disclosing your HIV status can be frightening. It is important to take time to think about the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. You may fear you will experience rejection or exclusion, or even violence, if you reveal your HIV status to your partner, family, friends or employer.

Many people tell their partners, family, friends and colleagues about being HIV-positive and receive acceptance and support. However, some may become upset or react badly. In some cases, women have been subjected to domestic violence when disclosing to their partners.

There is generally no requirement to tell your employer if you are HIV-positive (unless your work would carry a risk of transmission), or your child’s school if your child is HIV-positive.

If you have any concerns about disclosure, support or treatment, advocacy organisations provide specialist services and support to women and families living with HIV. Speak to a support organisation about managing your disclosure, especially to children so they can have a safe, trusted person to talk with about their concerns.

Confidentiality

Your medical records are confidential and nobody can see them without your consent. If you are worried about telling somebody that you have HIV, or are concerned about somebody finding out, ensure that you make your concerns clear to the hospital, your GP or any care and support agencies you are in contact with. Your HIV clinic or support organisation can also help and act as an advocate: this means speaking on your behalf with health or social care professionals if you are not comfortable doing so yourself.

Prosecution for transmission of HIV

Some people have been prosecuted for passing on HIV. People have been accused of ‘intentional’ transmission of HIV (deliberately setting out to infect someone) and ‘reckless’ transmission. Someone can be considered reckless if they know they can pass on HIV during sex and still go on to take that risk.

If you have unprotected sex with a partner without telling them of your HIV status and, as a result, your partner then becomes HIV-positive, they could try to prosecute you for reckless transmission of HIV. It is not against the law just to have ‘unsafe’ sex – a prosecution can only happen if your partner did not know you had HIV, you didn’t have safe sex and your partner becomes infected as a result.

If someone makes a complaint against you, it is important you seek expert legal advice and personal support as soon as possible.

Scientifically, it is very difficult to prove who may have infected whom, but being investigated, going to court, and having your personal and sexual history made public can be devastating.

If you are thinking about starting a case against someone, it is also a good idea to discuss your situation with your doctor and support network. The process can be long and traumatic.

HIV and your children

Breastfeeding carries a risk of transmitting HIV and the current advice in the UK is to formula feed. If you breastfeed, the law might consider this a danger to your baby. So far no case has been successfully brought against a mother. It may be considered a child protection issue, and your local authority social services department may become involved in considering your child’s welfare.

If you have children who were born before your HIV diagnosis, it is recommended that they are tested for HIV, whatever their age. If you are anxious about doing this, ask for the help of your support organisation and healthcare team.

HIV & women

Published November 2010

Last reviewed November 2010

Next review December 2013

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.