In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, if
you know you are HIV-positive, and you
have unprotected sex without telling your sexual partner about your HIV status,
and your partner becomes infected as
a result, it is possible you could have legal action taken against you.
In Scotland, the law is different. A
person with HIV may be sent to prison if they do not tell a sexual partner that
they are HIV-positive before having sex without a condom. They may be jailed
even if there is no HIV transmission.
issue may affect how you approach your sex life after an HIV diagnosis.
people in the UK
have been charged with committing grievous bodily harm (GBH) because they
infected their sexual partners with HIV through unprotected sex, without having
first told them they were HIV-positive. Some of them have been convicted and
sent to prison. There have been many more arrests and investigations, some of
which have lasted months. They have had a serious impact on the lives of both the
accused and the people making the complaint.
is important to remember that condoms, when used properly, provide excellent
protection against HIV and most other sexually transmitted infections. Lawyers
think that if you use condoms every time you have sex, and for the entire
duration of sex, you would have a good defence if transmission did occur. But
this has not yet been tested in court.
law is also not clear on your liability if you use a condom and it breaks.
Advice is that you should tell your partner that you have HIV and advise them
to seek treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
it is your decision when and whether to tell your sexual partners that you have
HIV. You may want to consider whether the kind of sex you are having involves a
substantial risk of HIV transmission – unprotected anal and vaginal sex have
the highest risk, but there is good evidence that there is also a (much
smaller) risk from oral sex. Properly used condoms can provide effective
you do decide to tell your sexual partners, think through how and when you will
do this. In many cases, it may be fine. However, some people will not want to
have sex with someone with HIV and in rare cases you could get an extreme
reaction. It could be helpful to think in advance about what you will do if you
are rejected, or if you are verbally or physically threatened or attacked.
Staff at your HIV clinic or HIV support organisations can help you with
developing techniques for disclosure. Talking to other HIV-positive people
about ways they have told partners and dealt with responses may also help.
sex happens in the heat of the moment. You may not feel that there is an
opportunity to mention that you have HIV, or your partner might not want to
discuss it. You may also find that your partner initiates unprotected sex.
Think in advance about how you would respond to these situations. Don’t assume,
just because your partner doesn’t want to talk about HIV or is willing or even
eager to have unprotected sex, that he or she is HIV-positive.
HIV-negative people (or those who don’t know their status) expect people with
HIV to tell them before they have unprotected sex. They will then assume that,
because there has been no mention of HIV and there has been unprotected sex,
their partner is also HIV-negative.
as HIV-positive people have a responsibility to look after their own health and
not to pass on HIV, HIV-negative people and people who don’t know their HIV
status have a responsibility to look after their own health and to protect
themselves from HIV. But the law as it now stands means that the balance of
responsibility has shifted to people with HIV.
you are being investigated, or you think that someone may make a complaint
against you, it’s important you get good advice and support from an HIV support
organisation and that you find an experienced lawyer straight away, prior to
making any statement. In the UK, the Terrence Higgins Trust helpline, THT
Direct, can help you find both these; you can speak to them in confidence on
0845 12 21 200. You may also want to speak to THT Direct or another support
organisation if you are thinking of making a complaint. You can find HIV
organisations near where you are using our online e-atlas.
more information, NAM’s
resource, HIV & the criminal law,
is available to buy and is also available on our website.