Criminal prosecution of HIV transmission

Each state and territory has different laws under which people may be prosecuted for transmitting or exposing others to HIV.

Criminal prosecution of people for exposure or transmission of HIV is problematic because prosecutions:

  • do not reduce HIV transmission risk
  • single out HIV as worse than other infectious diseases
  • attribute blame to individual accused: a message that runs counter to public health mutual responsibility messages
  • ignore the fact that failure to disclose HIV status is not extraordinary
  • reduce trust in health care practitioners, which may affect individual’s treatment options as well as transmission risk
  • increase stigma against people living with HIV
  • increase the number of people living with HIV in Australian prisons
  • are unacceptably arbitrary.

HIV policy commentators argue that it is generally preferable to manage people whose behaviour places others at risk of HIV infection under Australia’s public health system, which includes legal mechanisms mandating safe behaviours or even detention.

Criminal prosecutions tend to stigmatise people living with HIV and this stigmatisation may discourage people who engage in high risk  behaviours from engaging with the health system.

See also: Reporting on criminal cases involving HIV transmission or exposure


Repeal of s19A, Victorian Criminal Code

As of May 2015, Victoria no longer specifically criminalises HIV, following the Victorian parliament's repeal of section 19A of the Crimes Act 1958.

The now repealed s19A contained a specific offence of intentionally infecting another person with a 'very serious disease', defined exclusively to be HIV.

The maximum penalty for such an offence was 25 years imprisonment, the same as that for armed robbery or rape.

Repeal of the HIV/AIDS Preventive Measures Act 1993, Tasmania

In April 2015, Tasmania repealed the HIV/AIDS Preventive Measures Act 1993. According to the Tasmanian Government it was repealed in order to:

  • Simplify public health legislation
  • Remove obsolete provisions, language and procedures
  • Ensure Tasmania is acting consistently with best practice public health measures
  • Reduce stigma attached to HIV.