How Women Living With HIV React and Respond to Learning About Canadian Law That Criminalises HIV Non-disclosure: ‘How Do You Prove That You Told?’

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Saara Greene, Apondi J. Odhiambo, Marvelous Muchenje, Alison Symington, Jasmine Cotnam, Kristin Dunn, Margaret Frank, Shelly Glum, Rebecca Gormley, Allyson Ion, Valerie Nicholson, Krista Shore & Angela Kaida (2019) How women living with HIV react and respond to learning about Canadian law that criminalises HIV non-disclosure: ‘how do you prove that you told?’, Culture, Health & Sexuality, 21:10, 1087-1102, DOI: 10.1080/13691058.2018.1538489

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The Women, ART and the Criminalization of HIV Study is a qualitative, arts-based research study focusing on the impact of the HIV non-disclosure law on women living with HIV in Canada. The federal law requires people living with HIV to disclose their HIV-positive status to sexual partners before engaging in sexual activities that pose what the Supreme Court of Canada called a ‘realistic possibility of transmission’. Drawing on findings from seven education and discussion sessions with 48 women living with HIV regarding HIV non-disclosure laws in Canada, this paper highlights the ways in which women living with HIV respond to learning about the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure. The most common emergent themes included: the way the law reproduces social and legal injustices; gendered experiences of intimate injustice; and the relationship between disclosure and violence against women living with HIV. These discussions illuminate the troubling consequences inherent in a law that is antithetical to the science of HIV transmission risk, and that fails to acknowledge the multiple barriers to HIV disclosure that women living with HIV experience. Women’s experiences also highlight the various ways the law contributes to their experiences of sexism, racism and other forms of marginalisation in society.

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Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)