Published January, 2009

10 Reasons Why Criminalization of HIV Exposure or Transmission Harms Women, Athena Network (2009)

The authors conclude that HIV criminalization leads to negative public health outcomes, increased gender-based violence, and greater social and political inequalities for women. Because women are more likely to be the first to know their HIV status due to provider-initiated HIV testing and pre-natal care, women are more likely to be prosecuted for HIV exposure, be blamed for HIV transmission, and face greater risk of HIV-related violence and abuse for "bringing HIV into the family."

Already marginalized women are predictably at greater risk for prosecution under these laws. Sex workers and illicit drug users, who typically have proportionately less access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and support services, are often prosecuted under HIV criminalization statutes.(See Positive Justice Project: Prosecutions for HIV Exposure in the United States, 2008-2010). The criminalization of HIV exposure adds to the stigma of these women who face a threat of double prosecution – prosecution for engaging in behavior that already is criminalized, such as sex work, and for HIV exposure.

The authors note that many proponents of HIV criminalization argue that these laws protect women, when in fact they have no impact on risk behavior or on reducing women's exposure and vulnerability to HIV. As an alternative to HIV criminalization statutes the authors advocate for a human rights-based approach, protecting the dignity and rights of all people and thereby fostering an environment in which persons can feel free to access information on HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and support services without the risk of prosecution.