Ten reasons to oppose the criminalization of HIV exposure or transmission

Ralf Jürgens, Jonathan Cohen, Edwin Cameron, Scott Burris, Michaela Clayton, Richard Elliott, Richard Pearshouse, Anne Gathumbi, Delme Cupido

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Recent years have seen a push to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission, often driven by the wish to respond to concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries. Particularly in Africa, some groups have begun to advocate for criminalization in response to the serious phenomenon of women being infected with HIV through sexual violence or by partners who do not reveal their HIV diagnoses to them. While these issues must be urgently addressed, a closer analysis of the complex issues raised by criminalization of HIV exposure or transmission reveals that criminalization is unlikely to prevent new infections or reduce women's vulnerability to HIV. In fact, it may harm women rather than assist them, and have a negative impact on public health and human rights. This paper is a slightly revised version of a document originally released in December 2008 by a coalition of HIV, women's and human rights organizations. It provides ten reasons why criminalizing HIV exposure or transmission is generally an unjust and ineffective public policy. The obvious exception involves cases where individuals purposely or maliciously transmit HIV with the intent to harm others. In these rare cases, existing criminal laws - rather than new, HIV-specific laws - can and should be used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-172
Number of pages10
JournalReproductive Health Matters
Issue number34
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • criminal law
  • human rights
  • law and policy
  • women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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