Many HIV-positive people's understanding of the law on HIV transmission is "weak and patchy"

Roger Pebody
Original Article:

Many people living with HIV in England have a limited understanding of the law which leaves them either at risk of prosecution for HIV transmission or with an overestimation of their legal obligations, according to a small qualitative study published online ahead of print in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

A number of people in England and Wales have been convicted for non-intentional transmission of HIV during consensual sexual intercourse (‘reckless’ transmission). To simplify, this can occur when an individual who knows they have HIV has sex with someone who is unaware of their partner’s HIV-positive status and, having taken no measure to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, HIV is passed on.

In England and Wales (but not in Scotland, where the law is more far-reaching) a conviction is only possible after HIV has been passed on. Prevention of HIV transmission is therefore an effective way to prevent prosecution. Furthermore, an individual who has made efforts to avoid transmission, either by using condoms or (following specific medical advice) by maintaining an undetectable viral load, may be less likely to be judged by a court to have behaved ‘recklessly’ even if transmission does occur.

Similarly, prior disclosure of HIV status could have legal benefits in the event of HIV transmission. If it can be shown that a sexual partner had sex with someone they knew to be HIV positive, a court is likely to see them as having agreed to the risk of acquiring HIV.

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