YouthCO is frustrated and disappointed at the recent news that police in Peterborough, ON and Toronto, ON have released photographs of two separate people living with HIV when criminal charges were laid in relation to HIV non-disclosure. Consistent with our firm opposition to the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure (see our position paper here) and our commitment to challenging HIV stigma, we oppose decisions by the police and media outlets to publish photos of those charged with HIV non-disclosure. The actions of police, media, and those of us who published or shared the photos of these men reveal their private medical information in a society still ripe with stigma towards those of us living with HIV. The use of these men's photos irreparably damages their privacy and presumes their guilt. At YouthCO, we affirm living with HIV is not a crime and that black lives matter.
Echoing the sentiment of a local HIV organization who responded, the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (statement available here), YouthCO believes the criminal law is an ineffective way to lessen the impact of HIV in our communities. Using the criminal law to respond to HIV non-disclosure increases the stigma that drives HIV transmission, and does not lead to justice or equity for those impacted. Yet, pursuing cases of HIV non-disclosure, including the cases of this Peterborough teen and Toronto man, are portrayed as necessary for public health and safety. In reality, we know equating HIV non-disclosure to aggravated sexual assault is based on ignorance, fear and stigma. Publishing photos of people charged with HIV non-disclosure fuels the fear and stigma that are a barrier to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and support.
We affirm the need for continued focus on HIV education to reduce ignorance about how HIV is passed between people, and broader sexual health education that builds our capacity to talk about sexual health with our partners. We believe those responsible for the administration of criminal proceedings must understand fundamental concepts about HIV in order to respond to cases of HIV non-disclosure without reinforcing HIV stigma, racism and other forms of oppression. Further, we support, and encourage all of us to support, Positive Living Society of BC’s petition to stop unjust prosecutions of HIV non-disclosure (available here).
We extend our support to the men whose photos have been released, as well as those impacted by HIV in the local communities who have been subjected to hurtful, stigmatizing and ill-informed messages. HIV is not a crime.