Edwin J. Bernard
Published: 18 July 2010


  • BREAKING: Justice Committee report recommends wide-ranging reforms to HIV criminalisation in Canada. Congratuations… 18 Jun 2019
  • RT @AIDSLAW: We've spent decades advocating for this critical change. We're very happy that it's a key part of the Justice Committee's repo… 17 Jun 2019
  • Published today - 'Using Research in the Fight Against #HIVCriminalisation - A Guide for #Activists' to help advoca… 13 Jun 2019
  • RT @HIVLawCom: A new @HIVJusticeNet report analyses the growing global movement against #HIV criminalisation. Six countries saw precedent… 06 Jun 2019
  • #HIVIsNotaCrime! Now in Spanish, French & Russian -- #MakingMediaWork for #HIVJustice: An introduction to media eng… 06 Jun 2019
  • RT @WOLA_org: New report by @WOLA_org, @IDPCnet, and @Dejusticia shed light on the disproportionate impact of pretrial detention for drug o… 05 Jun 2019
  • Thanks to #RobertCarrFund for recognising a global network focused on ending #HIVcriminalisation was work that need… 29 May 2019
  • BREAKING - JUST RELEASED: New report analyses the successes and challenges of the growing global movement against… 29 May 2019
  • Previewing our new report, Advancing #HIVJustice 3, published on May 29th, at the #ChallengeCrim intersectional dia… 23 May 2019
  • HJN is delighted to be part of this important cross-movement project to #ChallengeCrim globally. 23 May 2019
  • RT @Account4All: "You have to work with grassroots civil society to make access to justice a reality and to ensure justice reaches every pe… 23 May 2019
  • Coming May 29th....Advancing HIV Justice 3: Growing the global movement against HIV criminalisation… 17 May 2019
  • RT @alisapower: If you have NGO managerial skills and a commitment to human rights in the context of HIV - this is an enormously important,… 15 May 2019
  • Could you be one of our new HIV Justice Network Supervisory Board Members? Applications close 31st May 2019. Full… 15 May 2019
  • RT @AIDSLAW: What this means is people living with HIV can face years in jail and be designated "sex offenders" for life if they don't tell… 23 Apr 2019
  • RT @AIDSLAW: Of greatest concern is that the BCPS has refused to clearly rule out prosecuting people who use condoms. A correctly used cond… 23 Apr 2019
  • RT @AIDSLAW: The @BCProsecution Service has announced a new policy on prosecuting allegations of HIV non-disclosure. But it falls short. Pe… 23 Apr 2019
  • The HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE website is now available in Russian. Join the movement to end HIV criminalisation!… 07 Mar 2019
  • Веб-сайт HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE теперь доступен на русском языке. Присоединяйтесь к движению, чтобы положить конец… 07 Mar 2019
  • RT @BurtonTracey: @GlobalFund @UNDP @Follow_SALC Strategic litigation, legal defense + advocacy efforts are vital tools to counter the crim… 06 Mar 2019

Why does criminal law treat HIV differently from other diseases? What social or cultural ‘filtering’ of the ‘meaning’ of HIV infection informs the decisions of complainants to complain, police to investigate, prosecution offices to pursue, and judicial officers to hear these cases and not cases of other disease transmission (hepatitis, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, measles, swine flu, for example)? This question must also be examined in light of the increase in HIV-related prosecutions occurring at a time when the ‘harms’ of HIV infection at population level might be generally understood as having decreased when compared to the harms associated with HIV diagnosis in the early 1980s (defined by the absence of effective treatment and complete ostracism) when no prosecutions occurred.

Sally Cameron and John Rule, editors, The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission in Australia: Legality, Morality and Reality. 2009.1

What does it mean to assert that HIV ‘causes harm’? While individuals – including lawmakers and judges – will inevitably have different opinions about the matter, it is important to base these opinions on the full body of available evidence about HIV rather than on isolated facts, overgeneralisations or long-outdated ways of thinking about the health consequences of being HIV-positive.

In practice, in many jurisdictions much of the reliable, up-to-date evidence on HIV-related 'harm' appears to be overlooked. The law – based on statutes written in the past, or rulings that have been shaped by legal precedents – looks backwards. In contrast, medicine moves forward. Medical advances have resulted in such a rapid and vast improvement in both quantity and quality of life for many people living with HIV that they are "virtually unprecedented in the history of medicine".2 Since the science of HIV changes so quickly, it is perhaps inevitable that outdated or incorrect notions of the impact of HIV's 'harm' has informed so much of the logic behind HIV-related criminal laws and rulings.3

The purpose of this chapter, then, is to consider the ‘harm’ of HIV by taking up the following topics:

  • the impact of HIV on physical and emotional wellbeing

  • the 'harm' of HIV in the popular imagination

  • how popular perceptions of harm may inform legislation and prosecutions

  • the legal construction of HIV-related harm.

Another important aspect of harm in relation to the application of the criminal law to potential or actual HIV exposure or transmission – the nature of the harm to public health and/or human rights that may be caused by such criminalisation – is addressed separately in the chapter: Impact.


  1. Cameron S and Rule J Outside the HIV strategy: challenges of “locating” Australian prosecutions for HIV exposure and transmission. in Cameron S and Rule J (eds) The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission in Australia: legality, morality and reality National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), 2009
  2. National Post Success in the fight against AIDS has bred complacency. 14 May, 2008
  3. James R and Azad Y Do judges understand HIV? A review of court transcripts from cases involving HIV transmission. 15th British HIV Association Conference, Liverpool, Poster P21, 2009
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.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.