I am undertaking a research project in March / April 2012 into the efforts of HIV activists and organisations in Scandinavian and Nordic countries to reform laws which criminalize HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure. The details of the project can be found below. I would be grateful for assistance from anyone in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway who has been involved in this work!
Dear Friends and Colleagues
I am writing to ask for your participation in a research project looking at the ways in which activists and civil society organisations in Scandinavian and Nordic countries have responded to the criminalization of HIV transmission and exposure.
Across Europe, people living with HIV are being investigated, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for non-deliberate HIV exposure and transmission, and for non-disclosure of status, contrary to the best practice guidance of UNAIDS and other international organizations concerned with preventing the spread of HIV and promoting the health and human rights of PLHIV. The criminalization of PLHIV is impeding efforts to normalize HIV and reduce stigma, and undermines the importance of shared responsibility for sexual health. It is an epidemic whose impact is felt especially by people who already experience particular social and economic exclusion and vulnerability. It is an epidemic that, in theory at least, has created some 2.2 million potential criminals in Western and Central Europe.
Although all but a few countries in the region have laws which criminalize HIV transmission and exposure, the scale and intensity of their enforcement is not evenly distributed. Based on available data relating to HIV prevalence and convictions per 1000 PLHIV, there is a marked difference between Scandinavian and Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) and those further south. The former, despite having significantly lower HIV prevalence than the European average, have a markedly higher rate of criminalization. Sweden and Denmark, for example, have conviction rates of 6.12 and 4.66 per 1000, while the rates for France and Italy are 0.1 and 0.74 respectively.
There is a number of possible explanations for this increased resort to criminal law in the Scandinavian and Nordic countries compared with elsewhere, but whatever the causes are, it has resulted in concern among HIV activists and civil society organisations in the region, who have mobilised in efforts to repeal and reform laws and / or constrain their enforcement.
The Research Project
This research project is concerned with the work of HIV activists and organisations, and specifically with understanding:
(1) what their motivations for legal reform have been;
(2) how they have organised nationally and regionally to try and achieve that reform;
(3) how they have developed, and the considerations and evidence that have informed, their policy agendas;
(4) whether, and if so how, they have engaged and communicated with both (a) PLHIV and key groups especially vulnerable to HIV infection and (b) the wider population to achieve “buy in” and broader legitimacy for reform efforts;
(5) how they have engaged with policy makers, politicians, and government; and
(6) what the results and consequences of these efforts have been to date, and what they anticipate for the future.
These questions all focus on an attempt to understand better the ways in which civil society responds to the impact of law on PLHIV. By focusing on a region in which punitive law has been deployed disproportionately, and where there established and comparatively well-resourced organisations, the research will contribute to our understanding of how expert groups committed to HIV prevention and human rights protection mobilise in the face of what they perceive as a threat to the constituents whose interests they represent. In so doing, the research will provide original data about the dynamics of health activism and the impact of activism on law and policy. Two further aims are to provide a practical resource of value to HIV activists and organisations elsewhere in Europe and a record that will contribute to the oral history of the HIV epidemic in Europe.
How you can help!
I am interested in interviewing you if you have been concerned in any capacity with the HIV criminalization debates in your country, whether as an individual, as part of a community group or more formal organisation, or as a politician. I am interested in all perspectives! I will, of course, respect confidentiality if that is requested. I will have to conduct the interviews in English – so some level of competence in spoken English, or being able to come along with someone who may be able to assist in translating, will be necessary!
I will be visiting your country on the following dates in 2012.
Denmark (Copenhagen) 12th March – 18th March
Norway (Oslo) 18th March – 23rd March
Finland (Helsinki) 23rd March – 30th March
Sweden (Stockholm) 30th March – 5th April
If you are willing and able to participate, I would be grateful if you could contact me as soon as possible to arrange a time and a place for meeting. Once you have got in touch I can send more details.
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
With thanks in advance for your help.
All best wishes
About Matthew …
Dr Matthew Weait is Professor of Law and Policy in the School of Law and Pro-Vice-Master for Academic Partnerships at Birkbeck College, University of London. Matthew studied law and criminology at the University of Cambridge and undertook his doctoral research at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. For the past decade or so, Matthew's research has c entred on the impact of law on people living with HIV and AIDS. In addition to his scholarship in this area he is actively involved in policy and law reform. He has been a member of the UK Department of Health's Expert Advisory Group on AIDS and a consultant for the World Health Organisation and the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). In 2010 he was appointed a member of the Advisory Group for the Global Commission on HIV and Law. In the School of Law at Birkbeck, Matthew was Assistant Dean between 2008 and 2011 and established, in collaboration with Hanne & Co Solicitors and River House a free legal advice and assistance clinic for PLHIV in London.
You can find out more about Matthew’s work at:
and you can follow him on Twitter: @ProfWetpaint