US Ambassador to Australia Denounces Criminalization of HIV

By Andrea Sears

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Ambassador John Berry
Ambassador John Berry

On July 21st, 2014, the United States ambassador to Australia noted that the criminalization of LGBT people and those living with HIV are obstacles to defeating the global HIV epidemic.  Addressing the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, Ambassador John Berry explained that criminalization is bad health policy and interferes with prevention and treatment efforts.

“Unfortunately, the criminalization of certain at risk populations and those who are HIV positive – and the stigma associated with HIV – are the very things that will prevent us from eliminating this disease entirely,” Ambassador Berry said.  “Criminalization laws undermine public health approaches that we need to fight this disease and limit its spread. These laws don’t reflect current scientific knowledge. They undermine our ability to get people into screening and treatment. And more fundamentally, these laws wrongly stigmatize and marginalize those living with HIV and AIDS.”

In calling for reviewing and reforming HIV criminalization laws, the ambassador’s remarks echo the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the U.S. Justice Department’s recently released Best Practices Guidance Guide to Reform HIV-Specific Criminal Laws to Align with Scientifically-Supported Factors.

Reporting on Ambassador Berry’s remarks, the Voice of America cited statistics from The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) on the number of states that currently have HIV-specific criminal laws and the number of prosecutions under those laws.  CHLP’s most recent estimate indicates that nearly 200 such prosecutions took place from 2008 to 2014.

CHLP monitors HIV criminalization across the country and has produced a chart summarizing many such cases over the last several years: Prosecutions for HIV Exposure in the United States, 2008–2013. Legal advocates representing people living with HIV in a criminal exposure case may find CHLP’s Guidance for a Legal Advocate Representing an HIV Positive Client in a Criminal Exposure Case and Legal Toolkit: Resources for Attorneys Handling HIV-Related Prosecutions helpful. People who believe they are at risk of arrest or in fact are facing prosecution on the basis of their HIV status may find CHLP’s HIV Criminalization Palm Card (disponible en español) helpful.