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HIV transmission should be about public health, not criminal law


Media Release, 18th February, 2016 (Immediate Release)

HIV transmission should be about public health, not criminal law

Allegations of HIV transmission have been made against a transgender person living with HIV, who was also a sex worker in Western Australia. 

While we cannot comment on a case before the courts our peak body Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association and the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) see this as an opportunity to counter unfounded fears about HIV, and to address the stigmatisation of people who are living with the virus. 
Although reports of HIV transmission often get considerable attention in the media, HIV is a public health issue and Australia’s public health response to HIV has been highly effective. Public health interventions that prioritise education and support over punitive legal sanctions are the most effective way to manage transmission risk. 

Cipriano Martinez, President of NAPWHA explains “Our common objective is to reduce HIV transmission. The most effective way to achieve this is through community education, engagement and empowerment. There are alternatives to the criminal justice system that are more appropriate for the management of allegations of HIV transmission. The overly broad application of the criminal law just makes things worse, both for the individuals involved and for the wider community.” 

Australia’s long established national public health ‘Guidelines for the Management of People with HIV who Place Others at Risk’ contain robust intervention mechanisms that are more than adequate to deal with cases of HIV transmission without the need to engage the criminal law. 
However even when a case of HIV transmission does come before the courts everyone, including people with HIV and sex workers, have the right to a fair trial. 

Janelle Fawkes, CEO Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association says “The involvement of money in sexual transactions does not increase the risk of HIV transmission. Sex workers with HIV can routinely exchange sex for money without putting themselves, or their clients, at risk. Any suggestion that occupation or gender identity is somehow responsible for HIV transmission is extremely naïve.”

Cameron Cox, the CEO of Sex Workers Outreach Project in NSW says, “Australian sex workers have excellent sexual health with STI rates equal to, or lower than, the non sex working population. To date there has not been one documented case of HIV transmission having ever been recorded in a sex work setting.
Criminalising HIV transmission undermines the notion of shared responsibility to prevent HIV, creates stigma which disincentives people from getting tested and discourages disclosure of HIV status. This undermines prevention efforts and increases the risk of further HIV transmission."

“Safer sex is the responsibility of all parties involved in sexual activity. Shared responsibility must be a focus of health education campaigns if we want to see improved outcomes in Australia.” says Josephine Rayson, Manager, Magenta, WA Sex Worker Support Service.

There are a range of complex factors that may impact an individual’s ability to disclose their status, or take the necessary precautions to prevent HIV transmission. For example, disclosure of positive HIV status may put people with HIV at significant risk of personal violence, discrimination, harassment or rejection.
The misinformed and stigmatising media reporting that often accompanies these cases undermines public health education messages and creates an environment of fear in which people are reluctant to test, and people with HIV cannot disclose their status.

Unfortunately reporting for this case is already sensationalised, highly stigmatising and disrespectful. Media reports have continually used incorrect pronouns for the woman accused and incorrectly referred to her as a “man who identifies as a woman”, as well as referring to her as a ‘prostitute’ instead of using the correct term of ‘sex worker’.

Andrew Burry, CEO WA AIDS Council agrees “Whilst we cannot comment on a case that is before the courts, we can comment on the standard of reporting – and it’s appalling. There has to be a better way to sell newspapers than through wilfully stigmatising already marginalised people”. 

We encourage media organisations reporting on this, or any other HIV related cases, to make full use of the HIV media Guide – - from the Australian Federation of AIDS organisations.

For media enquiries please contact;

Cipriano Martinez, President of the NAPWHA  - 0421 482 584

Cameron Cox, CEO Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW – 0407 709 947

Janelle Fawkes, CEO Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association – 0411 985 135

Andrew Burry, CEO WA AIDS Council – 0403 416 040