Given the current criminalization trend, the motivating question of this article is whether or not sexual transmission of HIV, without specific consent to the risk of such transmission, should be categorized as an assault or a sexual assault, and what difference that (re)categorization might make. In the argument that follows, the criminalization discourses in Canada and England and Wales that underpin and permeate the debates over HIV transmission will be explored. These jurisdictions have been chosen as examples of two regimes, at almost opposite ends of the criminalization spectrum, in which recent changes have set new benchmarks for criminal responsibility. One (England and Wales) has set rather narrow limits on the criminal law, whilst the other (Canada) has set far broader parameters, and lately has begun to include other sorts of cases (such as deception about the absence of birth control) as analogous to the HIV cases, drawing the boundaries of the criminal law even more widely. Beginning with a brief description of the law in each jurisdiction, this article analyzes the gendered and (hetero)normative role of consent in HIV nondisclosure offenses. Through a comparison with the law on sadomasochism, the article questions whether such offenses are rightly categorized as assaults or as sexual assaults. Following a critical engagement with the reasoning in recent Canadian jurisprudence in the area, the article will conclude by addressing the question of how future HIV transmission cases should be tackled. It is argued that in the absence of a policy that precludes criminalization of nondisclosure, the position in England and Wales is to be preferred.
- HIV transmission
- sexual assault