Tuesday, February 14, 2012

5 Ways that HIV Criminalization Hurts Women and Children

Back in 1998, when I first learned of a woman in Oregon who was going to court because she was HIV+ and wanted to breastfeed her newborn son, I had never heard of HIV criminalization.  As I moved forward with shooting the documentary, This Child of Mine, I began to see how laws and practices in the US and around the world often impact women, particularly those women without the means to fight back.

Many of the laws are well-intentioned efforts to stop the spread of HIV. We’ve all heard the horror stories of at-large psychopaths, intentionally infecting unsuspecting one-night-stands with HIV. But the vast majority of HIV “criminals” do not fall into this category. In fact, research shows that women are inordinately impacted by the criminalization of HIV.

So, without further ado:

5 Ways that HIV Criminalization Hurts Women and Children

  1. You’re in trouble if you don’t consent to HIV testing.
In the US several states now have laws mandating HIV testing for pregnant women and newborns that can throw rights to confidentiality and informed decision-making right out the window.  Read here about one case where a pregnant woman in New Jersey was tested and her HIV+ status disclosed, both without her consent. Later, HIV medications were mandated for her newborn, and she temporarily lost custody of him.

  1. You’re in trouble if you ask too many questions about HIV treatment.
Even though there is no law in the U.S. that mandates HIV treatment for children, if you resist treatment - or even ask questions -  a doctor, nurse or even a nosy neighbor can turn you in. This Child of Mine tells the story about a mother from Maine who was reported for negligence by a doctor just for questioning him about the safety of an experimental drug trial for her son. 

  1. You’re in trouble if you get pregnant in the first place.
In Uganda, for example, the government is considering a bill that would make it a crime for people to transmit HIV, including mothers who infect their children. In other parts of Africa doctors have been sterilizing  HIV+ women without their consent. And even though no such measures have been taken in this country, the court of public opinion often still stigmatizes the pregnant HIV+ woman as irresponsible or even criminal.

  1. You’re in trouble if you tell. You’re in trouble if you don’t.
As reported earlier, not disclosing one’s HIV status can lead to criminal prosecution, loss of custody, incarceration. But according to the AIDS Legal Network, there are a growing number of reports of HIV+ women who are abused or murdered by their partners for “bringing HIV into the family”. In other parts of the world, it is considered perfectly reasonable to ostracize, abandon or even kill your wife if she is HIV+.  

  1. You’re in trouble, so you run.
Disclosure laws, mandated testing, and the pressure to treat HIV+ children are intended to protect people, save lives. But as I discussed in Families Underground, they often have the opposite effect. When people are too scared to speak up, they often keep their mouths shut; when they are forced into corners, they often run. And opting altogether isn't going to solve problems; it can only create new ones. 


REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act

Sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), The Repeal HIV Discrimination Act is intended to eliminate discrimination in the law for those who have tested positive for HIV.

Positive Women’s Network

The mission of the Positive Women’s Network is to prepare and involve HIV-positive women, including transgender women, in all levels of policy and decision-making to improve the quality of women’s lives.

HIV Law Project

Through innovative legal services and advocacy programs, The HIV Law Project fights for the rights of the most underserved people living with HIV/AIDS.
Center for HIV Law and Policy
The Positive Justice Project is the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s response to stigma driven laws criminalizing people with HIV and AIDS.

Friday, February 3, 2012

HIV and Sex Crimes?

It's been over twelve years since I first set out to make the documentary, This Child of Mine, about parents who faced criminal charges of child neglect, abuse and homicide for refusing HIV medications for their kids, and choosing to breastfeed.

The video below, Perpetuating Stigma, tells another story of the criminalization of HIV, particularly as it affects women. In the US, where 36 states have laws criminalizing HIV and exposure, women have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and sex crimes simply for not disclosing their HIV status. And yes, people have done hard time for these sex crimes.

Let me say that again. Sex crimes. Meaning if you are HIV+  and have consensual sex but fail to mention your status, you could be prosecuted as a sex offender. Lumped in with with rapists and child molesters, and forced to live with the same stigma that goes along with that prestigious title for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sex- Edmageddon

The New York City Department of Education now requires that both middle and high schools must include medically accurate sexual health courses in their curriculum. HIV Law Project was instrumental in bringing about this mandate.   "This comprehensive sex education curriculum has nothing to do with endorsing sexual activity," HLP explains.  "It is about acknowledging that over 50% of young people in high school are having sex. We cannot ignore this. We have an obligation to keep our young people safe. It’s a health issue like any other." 

Having just had "the talk" with my own son shortly after he informed me with a tired eye-roll that he "already knew everything," I can say that, yeah, kids will talk and they're not talking about the the things I was talking about when I was nine.  I shudder to think what they'll be mulling over at 13. Or doing.  That awkward filmstrip class that I got when I was in sixth grade might not cut it with our worldly tweeners nowadays. 

But check out this clip of Sean Hannity where he equates New York's new education mandate to basic training in  S&M, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.    

Hmm.  If that's the case I guess we can expect more kids to stick it out to graduation. So that's a plus.

But seriously, somewhere between sexless sex-ed and Hannity's scene from Fellini Satyricon  there is a valid issue here:

Does Sex Ed Undermine Parental Rights? 

Authors Robert P. George and Melissa Moschella  ask their NY Times readers,  "Should the government force parents to send their children to classes that may contradict their moral and religious values on matters of intimacy and personal conduct?"

What do you think?