We were disappointed to hear of yet another case of HIV-non-disclosure criminalization from Missouri this week, where a young man was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Many people and organizations based in the United States are leading ongoing advocacy to oppose the criminalization of Michael Johnson. Media coverage in the United States has more details about this case.
The media coverage and legal proceedings have been full of stigmatizing language. This is yet another reminder that our actions and our words speak loudly: despite commitments to ending HIV, stigma towards those of us living with HIV and/or accessing HIV-related care, prevention, and treatment persists. This stigma needs to stop if we are to improve sexual health and wellbeing in our communities.
We need media that provides factual information about HIV rather than perpetuating fear. We need education systems that help us talk about sexual health with our partners, whatever our HIV status. We need more health and medical professionals to publicly stand against the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure in Canada and beyond. We need to resist creating fear about knowing our HIV status and talking to our partners about our sexual health.
We need the media to report the news without furthering stigma based on misinformation. We need the media and our communities to choose the language that supports us, rather than stigmatizes us when we are having sex and making decisions about our sexual and reproductive health. We need to affirm sexual relationships that involve consent and communication with our partners and encourage all of us to take responsibility for our sexual health.
We need legal systems that make evidence-based decisions and do not target some of us because of our race or sex. Criminalizing people living with HIV does nothing to prevent new diagnoses and it creates barriers to getting tested for HIV. For example, we may avoid getting tested for HIV because we are worried we may face criminal prosecution if we know our status. Knowing our status is important because it is the only way for those of us living with HIV to access treatment, which supports our own health and prevents HIV from passing to our partners and loved ones.
When laws that criminalize HIV non-disclosure are in place, knowing our HIV status means we are subject to prosecution. Criminalization of HIV non-disclosure does not support those of us living with HIV, prevent new HIV transmissions, or encourage access to HIV and STI testing. We need communities that know the truth about HIV, and communities and individuals who will stand up to media and legal systems that spread fear and myths rather than facts.
We stand against the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, and we resist the disproportionate use of the criminal system against those of us who are living with HIV, who are people of colour, who are indigenous, who are poor, and who are part of LGBTQ+ communities. HIV is not a crime.
#HIVisnotacrime #michaeljohnson #freeblackgaymen #HIVCan #BlackLivesMatter
To learn more:
- A discussion of the outdated laws that continue to criminalize people living with HIV, such as Michael Johnson by fusion.net
Two videos from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network explaining the use of the criminal law in Canada to punish HIV non-disclosure, and some of the ways they further stigma, fear and myths about HIV
- YouthCO’s position statement on HIV non-disclosure reiterates the fact that HIV is not a crime, and the criminal law is not the appropriate tool to address HIV transmission