Victoria is the only State in Australia to have a specific law criminalising the transference of HIV. Section 19A of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) establishes the criminal offence of ‘intentionally causing a very serious disease’ – with ‘very serious disease’ defined exclusively to mean HIV infection.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment and is equivalent to that prescribes for very serious crimes including rape, armed robbery and aggravated burglary.
Originally established in 1993 to deter the use of blood filled syringes as weapons, Section 19A has rarely been successful in prosecutions with the only conviction under 19A being that of Michael John Neal in 2009.
Since 1993 the HIV landscape has changed dramatically, with the introduction of antiretroviral medications transforming HIV from a certain death sentence, to a manageable chronic condition. The existence of Section 19A in 2014 falsely characterises people living with HIV as a threat to public safety, contributing significantly to HIV stigma. This discourages people from getting tested, seeking treatment and disclosing their status to sexual partners.
HIV-specific laws like Section 19A have been criticised globally as counterproductive to the epidemic’s response, with organisations such as UNAIDS and the Global Commission on HIV condemning the criminalisation of HIV.
Ahead of the 20th International AIDS conference, AIDS 2014, being held in Melbourne next week, Victoria’s two peak HIV organisations, Living Positive Victoria and the Victorian AIDS Council have joined forces, working together to see an end to Section 19A.
Today on Word For Word, Dean Beck speaks with the Chair of the Legal Working group Paul Kidd and Heath Paynter, Senior Policy Analyst for the VAC. You can find out more about the campagin to repeal Section 19A here.