Criminalization: The Truth is Out There

When I made the short film HIV is Not a Crime for Sero Project several years ago, it was out of frustration. At the time, so few leaders in public policy leaders were talking about the terrible policies that promoted HIV criminalization.

This public conversation was ultimately, because it lacked one crucial factor: the perspective of victims of HIV criminalization. No one has ever heard directly from someone suffered prosecution, had their name and picture on local television with headlines like “AIDS Monster!” and “AIDS Predator!” and was sentenced to prison and sex offender registration.

Conversely, my film restored people with AIDS to the discussion. HIV is Not a Crime  features interviews with courageous survivors of criminalization prosecutions, like Robert Suttle, Nick Rhoades and Monique Moree. They personalize the issue, succeeding in open hearts and minds as to why HIV criminalization reform is so urgently needed.

I made the film to show at a UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting in Geneva two years ago.  The scheduled screening prompted objections from several of the countries represented on the PCB—like Zimbabwe, Egypt and Libya. (These countries refuse to even acknowledge homosexual contact as a significant HIV transmission route in their cases.) But the topic of my film was deemed important enough that their objections were overcome. 

Then, at the last minute, our screening slot was eliminated. We finally were told why: the objection came from the United States. They didn’t want to be embarrassed by depiction of such extreme human rights abuses on our home turf, since we so often criticize human rights abuses in other countries.

That censorship only increased interest in HIV is Not a Crime. The film has been seen by more than 100,000 people since then. It has screened in hundreds of classrooms, at conferences, meetings, AIDS service organizations and many other venues.