Gendered Impacts of the Criminalization of HIV Non-Disclosure in the Words and Art of and by Women Living with HIV: New BC Prosecutor Guidelines Fall Short

May 14, 2019   |   Blog

A new article published in recent article in the National Observer featuring CGSHE’s Flo Ranville (SHAWNA Peer Mentor), shares the lived experiences, voices and art by cis and trans women in SHAWNA Project, entitled ‘Through Our Own Eyes’ (PI: Dr. Andrea Krüsi, CGSHE Research Scientist/ UBC Assistant Professor, funded by Vancouver Foundation). This exhibit was showcased in the Downtown Eastside community this fall showing how the current criminal laws (embedded in Canada’s sexual assault legislation) increase risks of violence, stigma and shame for women living with HIV in women’s own words, through narratives and visual art.

A series of 5 photovoice groups with youth, Indigenous, African Black newcomer women, trans women and the SHAWNA Project Positive Women’s Advisory Board provided a venue for highlighting the powerful stories from women confronting the effects of these the discriminatory laws in their daily lives as well as stories of resilience and strength.  Through this multimedia storytelling initiative, he devastating impacts of Canada’s ongoing criminalization of non-disclosure of HIV brought to light the actual impacts on WLWH, including increased feelings of shame, experiences of stigma, racism, and risks of violence.

On April 16, 2019, despite growing consensus in Canada and internationally, changes to the BC Prosecutor’s guidelines regarding criminalization of the non-disclosure of HIV came into effect. While these changes do represent an improvement, they continue to fall short of the scientific evidence, including recommendations by the then Attorney General of Canada released in December 2018. Of particular concern, these new BC guidelines fail to take into account the very gendered nature of these laws, especially for marginalized women living with HIV, in disclosing one’s status or safely negotiating ‘male condom use.’  Alongside other community and legal experts, CGSHE’s Drs. Andrea Krüsi and Kate Shannon, Executive Director of CGSHE and UBC Professor of Medicine, provided a policy brief of key research evidence to the BC Attorney General, David Eby, in advance of these new BC guidelines. The evidence provided highlighted again the gendered impacts and limitations of these laws, particularly for women.

For more details on the gendered impact of the laws, please check our recent PLOS Medicine article led by Dr. Krüsi, titled “Positive sexuality: HIV disclosure, gender, violence and the law – A qualitative study.”