Criminalising consensual sexual behaviour in the context of HIV: Consequences, evidence, and leadership

Aziza Ahmed, Margo Kaplan, Alison Symington, Eszter Kismodi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


This paper provides an overview of the use of the criminal law to regulate sexual behaviour in three areas of critical importance: (1) HIV exposure in otherwise consensual sex, (2) sex work and (3) sexual activity largely affecting sexual minorities. It analyses criminal law pertaining to these three distinct areas together, allowing for a more comprehensive and cohesive understanding of criminalisation and its effects. The paper highlights current evidence of how criminalisation undermines HIV prevention and treatment. It focuses on three specific negative effects of criminalisation: (1) enhancing stigma and discrimination, (2) undermining public health intervention through legal marginalisation and (3) placing people in state custody. The paper also highlights gaps in evidence and the need for strong institutional leadership from UN agencies in ending the criminalisation of consensual sexual activity. This paper serves two goals: (1) highlighting the current state of research and emphasising where key institutions have or have not provided appropriate leadership on these issues and (2) establishing a forward-looking agenda that includes a concerted response to the inappropriate use of the criminal law with respect to sexuality as part of the global response to HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-369
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • HIV
  • LGBT
  • criminalisation
  • human rights
  • law
  • sexuality
  • stigma


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