In WA district Court CJ Palmer, who had previously worked as a sex worker, has today received a guilty verdict for the charge of grievous bodily harm in relation to the transmission of HIV to her ex-partner. CJ, a trans woman, has been remanded in a male prison until sentencing on the 16th February 2017 and will have to serve out her sentence in a male prison.
Australia’s long established national public health Guidelines for the Management of People with HIV who Place Others at Risk contain robust intervention mechanisms that are more than adequate to deal with cases of HIV transmission without the need to engage the criminal law. There is more evidence than ever before regarding HIV transmission, impact and effective prevention programs. Criminalisation is not and has never been an effective method of HIV prevention. It does not reduce HIV transmission and the resulting stigma and discrimination increase barriers to effective health promotion.
Jules Kim, CEO of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association states, “HIV does not belong in the criminal justice system. This is an extremely unfortunate outcome, both for the individuals involved and for the wider community. Prosecutions for HIV transmission undermine the public health response to HIV by creating an environment of fear and prejudice. This reinforces stigma and contributes to further HIV transmissions. ”
A number of broader issues inherent to the issue of prosecutions for HIV transmission, raise the question as to whether or not a fair trial is possible for those who fall outside the scope of mainstream images of acceptability. It is one where the combined effects of misconceptions around HIV, the stigmatization of sex work, and the de facto discrimination against trans people impacts on whether true impartiality is possible. “Cases that come down to perceived credibility are problematic in nature as they inevitably and unfairly impact on people of color, sex workers, and trans people” says the CEO of Scarlet Alliance Jules Kim.
The misinformed and stigmatising public discourse that often accompanies these cases undermines public health education messages and creates an environment of fear in which people are reluctant to test, and people with HIV cannot disclose their status. Unfortunately reporting for this case has been highly sensationalised.
"The media’s sensationalist and offensive reporting has ensured that the stigma of this case lives on long after the details are forgotten. This will continue to negatively affect the trans community, the sex worker community and people living with HIV. This uninformed, stigmatising media ensures that these marginalised communities continue to face real barriers in the legal system" – Laila Lilac, SWEAR President
HIV is now a chronic manageable illness. People with HIV now lead long and healthy lives. In Australia we have maintained the virtual elimination of HIV transmissions among sex workers, people who use drugs and for mother to child transmission. The prevention of HIV transmission is a shared responsibility that does not fall solely on the HIV positive partner.
Following the guilty verdict and the subsequent media coverage and community dialogue, sex workers around Australia were saddened by the outcome and its impact.
“It is a sad day for us all and a stark example of the need to decriminalise sex work. Separate from CJ’s offence, as a sex worker we are all faced with demonisation in our public spheres. When we see counselors, doctors, rental agents, financialplanners, or police we are most likely treated as subhuman or broken. The amount of media and the narrative around CJ being a trans sex worker has no doubt had a negative impact for CJ. On top of this, the fact she is being sent to a men’s prison is appallingly backwards. CJ lives and identifies as a woman and should be treated as such.” – Rachel, Perth Sex Worker
CJ, a trans woman, is currently being held in a high-security male prison where she has already spent 9 months while awaiting her trial.
Lena Van Hale, Manager of the WA sex worker support project Magenta states, “We are deeply disappointed that trans and gender diverse prisoners in WA are still not being housed according to their correct gender. We do not believe that surgical intervention is an appropriate way to decide which trans prisoners are treated with dignity.”