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Disclosure

Telling people you have HIV (disclosing) can be frightening. It is important to take time to think about the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Many people tell their partners, family, friends and colleagues about being HIV positive, and receive acceptance and support.

However, some people you tell may become upset or react badly. In some cases, women have been subjected to abuse when disclosing to their partners. 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.

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. HIV clinic staff or support workers may offer to be with you when you disclose, if you choose to do so, and can usually provide advice or support to partners or family if they have questions or concerns after disclosure. However, they will maintain your confidentiality at all times. (Find out more about support organisations on page 68.)

Your rights

Confidentiality

Your medical records are confidential and nobody should see them without your consent. If you are worried about telling somebody that you have HIV, or are concerned about somebody finding out, 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.

Equality

Under the Equality Act 2010, healthcare professionals are not allowed to refuse care to someone on the basis of disability (which includes HIV), race, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity.

You can find out more about these topics, and how to make a comment or complaint, in NAM’s booklet HIV, GPs & other primary care.

Prison and HIV

Women in prison should have access to health care of the same range and quality as that of the general population. If you are on treatment, it is important that it is not interrupted while you are in prison, and that you receive regular health monitoring. If you are denied access to your treatment or regular check-ups, report it as soon as possible to the prison healthcare team.

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.

In England and Wales, 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. The law in Northern Ireland is similar to that in England and Wales.

The law in Scotland is different. There it is possible to be prosecuted for exposing someone to HIV – that is, having unprotected sex without telling a partner, even if the partner doesn’t then become HIV positive.

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.

The NationalAIDS Trust (NAT) and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) have produced a guide on criminal prosecutions, providing information and advice for people living with HIV in England and Wales. You can find it on the NAT website (http://www.nat.org.uk).  

Contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 for advice and referral to expert legal advice.  

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.