New study urges caution over widespread criminalisation of HIV transmission

A new report by the Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS Europe (GNP+ Europe) and Terrence Higgins Trust highlights the widespread criminalisation of HIV transmission across Europe and calls for an informed and measured approach based on public health and human rights.

The UNAIDS funded report, Criminalisation of HIV transmission in Europe, comes at a critical time, amid media hype surrounding HIV transmission cases in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland.

The report identifies and analyses the laws used in relation to HIV transmission and maps prosecution within signatory States of the European Convention of Human Rights. It also discusses the value and appropriateness of the use of criminal law and other punitive measures in the response to the epidemic.

Until recently the majority opinion seemed to be that criminal law should only be used in the context of HIV as a last resort, for example in cases of rape or wilful deception.

Many different types of law are used to prosecute transmission of HIV, including HIV-specific laws and general criminal law provisions. Some laws require intent, some do not. Some laws criminalise only actual transmission, while others criminalise the risk of transmission. Furthermore, some laws include “reckless” as well as “negligent” behaviour in addition to “intentional” behaviour in their legal provisions.

Though data on the background of people prosecuted was hard to find, it appears that a substantial number are from marginalised groups, in particular migrants. Men appear more likely to be prosecuted than women and there have been no traceable convictions for transmission from mother to baby.

Lisa Power, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust said: “We urge lawmakers to take an informed approach based on human rights and public health if they wish to bring the law to bear on HIV transmission. “Criminalising consensual sexual acts will discourage people with HIV from seeking help in maintaining safer sex and drive such behaviour underground. Positive support to maintain safer sex is a basic part of preventing onward transmission.”

The full report, ‘Criminalisation of HIV transmission in Europe’ can be downloaded at

Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS
Terrence Higgins Trust

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