HIV related to laws and crimes

On this page you will find information about:

Discrimination based on HIV status

Discrimination is when a person is disadvantaged by being treated worse than someone else in the same situation would have been treated. For example, if you apply for a job and someone with lower qualifications gets the job because the employer does not want to hire someone with HIV. Determining whether or not the situation is the same is often a difficult legal issue. Even if you feel sure that you have been discriminated against, it can be difficult to prove it. For example, an employer may state in a job advertisement that “personal qualities” are important for employment. Then the employer can theoretically argue that the person hired instead of you had different personal characteristics than you and that it is because of these and not your HIV, that you were not hired. The burden of proof is always on the person claiming discrimination, which often makes things even more difficult.

Bringing a discrimination case to court that you are not sure you will win can be risky, as you risk having to pay the other party’s legal costs if you lose. If the counterparty is a large company, the costs can be extremely high. An alternative to pursuing a case yourself is to report the case to the Equality Ombudsman (DO). The DO pursues an exceedingly small number of cases and only if they believe in a conviction, but the advantage is that if the DO pursues your case, it is the DO that takes the risk of having to pay the other party’s costs.

Sex without a condom or without disclosing your HIV status

If your treatment is well-adjusted and someone reports you for having sex without telling them you are living with HIV, then there should be no risk of prosecution. As long as it can be proved that you had an undetectable viral load when you had sex, the police and/or prosecutors should not investigate further or prosecute you. Therefore, make sure that your doctor enters in your medical records that you have had the obligation to disclose your HIV-positive status to others and to use a condom removed. It is then easy to use your journal as evidence that you have actually had an undetectable viral load.

As far as current research shows, with well-adjusted treatment, it is only during sex that the risk of transmission can be said to be zero. For other acts that could potentially pose a risk of transmission, Swedish law allows for the prosecution of people living with HIV.

It is exceedingly rare that someone living with HIV deliberately attempts to transmit HIV or that HIV is actually transmitted during such an attempt. A person with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV through sexual activities. Most commonly, HIV is transmitted from someone who does not know their status and has therefore not started on medication.

The classification of a crime that has been used in Sweden to prosecute people living with HIV is “causing danger to another person”. The cases have involved the risk of transmission during sex. HIV does not have to be transmitted for the crime to have occurred. If a transfer has taken place, it is usually prosecuted under the classification of a crime “gross assault”. Since 2018, people are no longer prosecuted if they have had unprotected sex when their treatment is well-adjusted. This applies whether or not you have informed your sexual partner about your status. For this reason, it is important that it is noted in your medical records that your treatment is well-adjusted and whether your doctor has removed your obligation to disclose your HIV-positive status and/or obligation to use a condom.

If someone has told others about your HIV status

If someone spreads information that you are living with HIV, in some cases this may constitute a defamation offense under Chapter 5, Section 1 of the Criminal Code. This applies even if the information spread is true, i.e., that you are living with HIV. For it to be defamatory, the statement must be intended to “spread contempt”, which means that the person spreading the statement must do so with the intention of making others dislike you. You can always file a police report if you think you have been defamed. Keep in mind that if you make a report and charges are later brought, all the information in the charge becomes public documents that anyone can access.

However, since defamation is a restriction on freedom of expression, it is relatively rare for a prosecutor to file charges for this crime. You can conduct “private prosecution” yourself, but this is risky as you will have to pay your own costs and the other party’s legal costs if you lose the case. If someone makes information available that constitutes an intrusion into your private life, for example spreading information about your health status to more than a few people and with the aim of seriously harming you, it may constitute the crime of unlawful violation of integrity  under Chapter 4, Section 6c of the Criminal Code. This classification of a crime is relatively new and was created for online abuse, but it is equally valid if someone were to disseminate information on paper. The information does not need to have reached a large number of people, it is sufficient that it is available to a large number of people (for example, if someone posts an image or text on a website). If there is a so-called legitimate public interest or newsworthiness, similar dissemination may still be allowed. As the provision is relatively new, it is not possible to know with certainty how a court would assess whether someone is spreading information because someone else is living with HIV.

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