Nadja Benaissa petition

*A call to stand united against the criminal prosecution of HIV transmission and demand justice for Nadja Benaissa!*

The International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) is the only international network run for and by HIV positive women.   ICW promotes all our voices and advocates for changes that improve our lives.

ICW members in Europe believe that ALL laws that uphold the criminalisation of HIV transmission should be abolished.  Criminalisation is counterproductive to goals related to rights-based approaches to public health, reinforces stigma on persons who are often already marginalised and fosters feelings of chaos and fear around HIV and sex. 

Criminalisation of HIV transmission specifically harms women [1] therefore we call on the German Government and its administration to demonstrate its leadership in discouraging efforts to criminalize the transmission of HIV and actively work to reverse laws already in place. 

BACKGROUND

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.

We are extremely concerned about the circumstances of her arrest and prolonged detention  and the use of criminal law to prosecute any People Living with HIV for the transmission of HIV. As stated before and during the International AIDS Conference in Mexico last August:

"Tragically, it is stigma that lies primarily behind the drive to criminalization. It is stigma, rooted in the moralism that arises from sexual transmission of HIV, that too often provides the main impulse behind the enactment of these laws.  Even more tragically, such laws and prosecutions in turn only add fuel to the fires of stigma. Prosecutions for HIV transmission and exposure, and the chilling content of the enactments themselves, reinforce the idea of HIV as a shameful, disgraceful, unworthy condition." Justice Edwin Cameron of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (2008)

"A combination of evidence and experience compels the conclusion that criminalisation of HIV transmission is counterproductive to sound public health practice" - Living Conference, 2008[2]

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 criminalized.  Below we seek to set out some key issues of this case.

Nadja Benaissa 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

CONFIDENTIALITY

  • All People Living with HIV have a right to confidentiality about our health condition. Breaches of confidentiality can result in serious damage to a person's career, family and health by undermining their ability to avoid violence, stigma and discrimination and seek appropriate care, treatment and support.
  • The media has a responsibility to report on HIV in a non-judgmental, non-stigmatising way, which does not fuel a culture of blame but seeks to increase understanding of HIV and its impact on People Living with HIV

 The publicity surrounding her arrest and detention will make it impossible for her to have a fair trial.

 Nadja Benaissa allegedly transmitted the HIV virus to her partners

TRANSMISSION

  • HIV transmission is a complex area both by the very nature of the virus and the psychosocial elements of living with HIV
  • It is not possible scientifically to establish source, route or timing of transmission
  • The risk of sexual HIV transmission during unprotected sex on successful [Anti-retroviral] treatment is 1 in 100,000[3]
  • In February 2009, a Swiss court accepted that criminal HIV exposure is only 'hypothetical' on successful treatment, and quashed a conviction[4]
  • Male-to-female HIV transmission during sex is about twice as likely to occur as female-to-male transmission[5].

Let us not assume that sex with an HIV positive person leads to transmission and let us not assume that Nadja Benaissa was the source of HIV, who 'gave' HIV to the man she allegedly had unprotected sex with.

Nadja Benaissa allegedly did not inform her partners of her HIV serostatus

DISCLOSURE

  • Criminal prosecution places blame on one person instead of responsibility of all involved. For nearly three decades the universal public information message has been that no one is exempt from HIV. So the risk of HIV (or any sexually transmitted infection) must now be seen as an inescapable facet of having sex. It is entirely inappropriate and unjust to place all the blame on the person with HIV[6]
  • Criminal prosecution increases stigma and discrimination: Women and girls are often blamed for the spread of HIV and criminalizing HIV transmission increases this blame. Women are often accused of bringing HIV into homes, kicked out, and abandoned by their immediate and extended families. As an increasing volume of recent literature now makes abundantly clear[7], fear of stigma, discrimination and criminalization also inhibits testing and access to care treatment and support[8]
  • Disclosure of HIV may lead to devastating consequences for a Woman Living with HIV as a result of high levels of stigma and discrimination, potentially resulting in violence against her, stigmatisation of herself and family, a loss of work, a lack of care and support, which may influence her decision to disclose or otherwise
  • Unless there are independent witnesses, it is impossible to say whether or not she disclosed her status

More than 25 years into the HIV epidemic, HIV infection continues to provoke the same fears based on disinformation and stigma. At a time when we are benefiting from treatment developments, our lives continue to be impacted by negative attitudes based on a lack of awareness of the facts relating to HIV. Let us not make damaging, stigmatising assumptions!

We, ICW members, people living with HIV, women's organisations, individuals and organisations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS stand united against the criminal prosecution of HIV transmission and demand justice for Nadja Benaissa!

Please add your voice to those calling for the German Government and all governments to develop policies and laws that discourage efforts to criminalize the transmission of HIV and actively work to reverse laws already in place, and to promote the human rights of People Living with HIV.

You can add your name to this petition by sending your name, your organisation's name, your city and country to Fiona Pettitt:  fpettittImageicw.org 

Thank you from ICW for taking the time to respond to this important issue.


[1] http://www.icw.org/files/Slide1_0.jpg

[2] http://www.living2008.org/images/stories/criminalisation%20en.pdf

[3] http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/CEFD90F2-34F1-4570-B9CF-1F0DB462AC9D.asp

[4] http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/CEFD90F2-34F1-4570-B9CF-1F0DB462AC9D.asp

[5] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2004/pr_unaids/en/index.html

[6] Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Supreme Court, South Africa, '10 reasons why criminalization is a bad idea',    http://www.stigmaindex.org/180/publications/verdict-on-a-virus-public-health-human-rights-and-criminal-law.html

[7] www.icw.org/node/354;  http://data.unaids.org/pub/BaseDocument/2008/20080731_jc1513_policy_criminalization_en.pdf

[8] Draft fact sheet on Criminalization of HIV Exposure and Transmission, International Community of   Women Living with HIV/AIDS