I was diagnosed HIV
positive in 1991. I am a member and
staff member of the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), which is the only
international network run for and by HIV positive women. ICW promotes the voices of and advocates for
changes in policies that improve the lives of all HIV positive women. We believe that all laws that uphold the
criminalization of HIV transmission should be abolished. Criminalization is counterproductive to goals
related to rights-based approaches to public health, reinforces stigma toward
persons who are often already marginalized and fosters feelings of chaos and fear around HIV and sex.
On April 11th, Nadja Benaissa, a member of
the highly successful German pop band No Angels, was
arrested in Frankfurt for alleged criminal HIV exposure and
transmission. She was placed on remand on the basis "that the strong suspicion
of a crime and the risk she would reoffend were too great to ignore." She was
released from prison 11 days after her detention.
HIV is a medical condition which promotes
highly emotive responses from many quarters, many of which are based on lack of
information and resultant fear, rather than on scientific fact. Many facts in the
arrest and prosecution of Nadja Benaissa demonstrate the violation of rights
faced by HIV positive individuals when HIV transmission and exposure is
was very publicly arrested before she went on stage at her concert in Frankfurt
and her HIV status revealed by the public prosecutor’s office. This public arrest and disclosure of her
status is a violation of her rights to confidentiality and privacy. Further, this treatment increases stigma and
discrimination against positive women by making people believe HIV positive
women are all malicious criminals.
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Benaissa did not inform her partners of her HIV serostatus. As an HIV positive woman I believe that it is
each person’s responsibility to ensure that they are engaging in healthy and
safe sexual behavior. Criminalization
of HIV transmission and exposure places blame on one sexual partner rather than
encouraging equal responsibility in safe sex – exposing oneself to HIV is part of
the risk of having sex. It is unfair to
place all blame on the person with HIV.
While in prison, Benaissa was kept from her daughter. Criminalizing HIV positive women specifically
means that the primary caretakers of their families and children are being put
The case of Benaissa represents some of the worst aspects of
criminalization of HIV transmission and exposure: increased stigma, worsening
discrimination, actively violating confidentiality, creating hysteria about HIV
positive women as HIV vectors, and removal of a caretaker from her home and
As an HIV positive woman I am outraged that anyone be put through this
ordeal and that judicial systems are prepared to enact laws that
violate our rights in this way and in circumstances that are tainted by stigma
and discrimination. ICW is actively working to end the criminalization of people living with HIV by advocating
directly at the national and international level, supporting individuals who
have been arrested through participation in broad based advocacy, and providing a deeper understanding of how criminalization
laws will directly impact the lives of HIV positive women.