New Documentary on Criminal Prosecutions for Failure to Disclose HIV
Focuses on the Impact on Women
New York, February 1, 2012 – In the Life Media tonight will air the first documentary to examine the effect that HIV-specific criminal laws, used to imprison people living with HIV who fail to disclose their HIV status before sex, have on women living with the virus. The program, titled Perpetuating Stigma, will air on public television stations across the country throughout February.
Perpetuating Stigma is a sequel to In the Life's award-winning documentary segment Legalizing Stigma, broadcast in December 2010. The 2010 piece was the first to address the issue of HIV criminalization from the perspective of people living with HIV who had been prosecuted for nondisclosure and for acts – in one case, biting – that do not transmit HIV.
The series explores the extreme levels of fear and stigma that HIV continues to engender, and the deep and widespread ignorance about the routes and actual risks and consequences of HIV infection that are at the root of these laws and their enforcement. Perpetuating Stigma challenges the prevailing characterization of women in stories about HIV criminalization as unwitting victims of HIV-positive men rather than of the criminal laws themselves.
"These laws are not good for women. Suggesting that women don't need to take charge of their sexual health and take measures to protect themselves and their partners from STIs is not good for women," said Catherine Hanssens, Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy. "Forgetting that women living with HIV also often have numerous reasons for not always disclosing their status – fear of abuse, rejection, loss of housing – and also are the target of HIV-specific criminal prosecutions is not good for women."
"Do these laws lessen the risk of HIV for anyone? No. Have we changed the rates of HIV in this country? No," said Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With a Vision (WWAV), a social service organization that promotes wellness and disease prevention for marginalized women and their families.
While more men than women have been prosecuted under HIV-specific criminal laws, they affect women in some unique ways. "If a woman is HIV-positive and pregnant, her very treatment decisions during the course of her pregnancy and in the care of her baby after birth can trigger criminal liability," explained Alison Yager, Supervising Attorney on HIV Policy for the HIV Law Project.
Beirne Roose-Snyder, an attorney with CHLP, pointed to a 2009 case involving a pregnant woman from Cameroon who had been jailed on an immigration-related charge. When the federal judge in her case learned that the woman also was HIV positive, he ordered that she remain behind bars after her release date, until after giving birth, "to protect the newborn." "This woman was receiving health care, she was taking care of herself and her pregnancy. Yet the judge reflexively treated her HIV status as evidence that she could not be trusted to act responsibly on her own," Roose-Snyder noted.
Brook Kelly of the U.S. Positive Women's Network (PWN) added, "When a woman living with HIV who is charged under one of these laws is being treated like a child molester or a rapist, something is very wrong."
Thirty-six U.S states and two territories have laws criminalizing HIV "exposure" (including through risk-free conduct such as spitting and biting) or nondisclosure of an individual's HIV status. While there has been growing awareness around the problems of targeting HIV-positive people for unreasonable criminal prosecution, In The Life Media's newest video highlights for the first time issues in criminalization that are common – and often unique – to women.
To watch Perpetuating Stigma online, or to find out when it airs in your local area, go to: www.itlmedia.org.
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The Center for HIV Law and Policy is a national legal and policy resource and strategy center that works to reduce the impact of HIV on marginalized communities by securing the human rights of people affected by HIV. We increase the advocacy power of advocates, and community members, and advance policy initiatives that are grounded in and uphold social justice, science, and the public health. We do this by providing an accessible web-based resource bank; leadership and analysis on key policy issues; and direct back-up to advocates.
For more information about The Center for HIV Law and Policy, go to www.hivlawandpolicy.org
For information about The Positive Justice Project, a national project advocating for the modernization of U.S. HIV criminalization laws and policies, go to: http://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/public/initiatives/positivejusticeproject