As explained in the chapter: Harm,
many people receive information about HIV through the popular media, primarily
through news reports. The same is likely to be true for the provenance of most
people's information about HIV and the criminal law, including police,
prosecutors, judges, potential complainants and defendants.
All news media report
stories in ways that are intended to reach their specific audiences, within the
parameters of their format. However, some media outlets and the journalists who
work within them are able to provide more detailed, factual HIV-related
reporting because their format and audience allow that to happen. In other
cases, the news media report stories about HIV in ways that work for their
format and style – often grabbing their reader's or viewer's attention by
focusing on stories that are "deviant, equivocal, and unpredictable"
and covering them with a relatively small amount of text or factual explanation
of the situation.47
This does not often fit well with helping readers understand the complexities
of the individual case, the law as it relates to HIV exposure or transmission,
or the wider issues of HIV-related harm, risk and responsibility.46 Consequently,
some of the information people receive about HIV and its relationship with the
criminal law may be provided through an inaccurate, and at times stigmatising,
regarding HIV-related harm, risk and responsibility can reach the public even
if the reporting uncritically records statements made by police, prosecutors or
judges. For example, when a Texas court sentenced a 42-year-homeless man with
HIV to 35 years in prison after finding him guilty of using his saliva as a
'deadly weapon', only three of the 175 mainstream news reports actually
mentioned that HIV cannot be transmitted via spitting.48
When the media’s
response is intended to be inflammatory, focusing on the role of the person
with HIV who has been charged under criminal HIV exposure or transmission laws,
sensationalist headlines and articles, written out of context, have vilified
individuals, misrepresented facts on HIV-related harm, risk and responsibility,
confused HIV exposure with transmission, and conflated intention to infect with
knowledge of HIV-positive status (see reports on
Criminal HIV Transmission.
2007 to 2010).31 The impact of such stories on HIV-related stigma, as well as the general
public's confusion over HIV-related harm, risk and responsibility is
particularly noticeable when reading comments on news stories online (see reports on
Criminal HIV Transmission.
2007 to 2010).
resources providing links to further information about HIV and the criminal law and accurate information on HIV-related
harm, risk and responsibility can be found in the chapter: Details.
and impartial sources of information about HIV and the criminal law,49,50 and about
HIV-related harm, risk and responsibility, are available. Those people who know
they are living with HIV and who are in contact with HIV service providers, or
members of high HIV-prevalence communities – such as gay men51 or
women in southern Africa52 – may take
advantage of these resources. However, not all information about HIV and the
criminal law aimed at communities of high HIV prevalence is necessarily
helpful, since stigmatising views may skew the information’s accuracy. See, for example, New Zealand: ‘Alleged “HIV predator” highlights gay community
tensions’, 15 May 2009 at
Criminal HIV Transmission, www.criminalhivtransmission.blogspot.com.