Forum explores the complex links between stigma and the law

The GLaD program was delighted to be invited to participate in the UNSW Centre for Social Health Research series ‘Spotlight on Stigma’, in April 2022. The ‘Spotlight on Stigma’ series, led by UNSW Professor Carla Treloar, has been running since 2021 and involves a series of forums focussing on stigma, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections. The series aims to build awareness of stigma and explore ways that stigma can be addressed.

This most recent event focussed on the relationship between stigma, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections and the law, and featured presentations from our program lead Kate Seear, alongside Paul Kidd, from Fitzroy Legal Service, and Dylan O’Hara, from the Vixen Collective.

Kate’s presentation drew together insights from several different projects she has led or been involved on over the years, including insights from our existing projects on human rights and drug policy and hepatitis C and post-cure lives.

Kate’s presentation explored the complexity of the relationship between stigma and the law, focussing particularly on insights from work on ‘addiction’, injecting drug use and hepatitis C. Kate’s presentation addressed four key issues, being:

1. That there’s a lot of talk about the need to deal with stigma through the law, but little information on what this actually means or how to do it.

2. That the law is not a singular entity, making the task of eliminating stigma through law a significant one that requires sustained action across all levels of government.

3. The law is continually evolving and we must be cognisant of new developments that can generate or exacerbate stigma.

4. That there are various systemic imperatives and incentives to reproduce stigma and we must acknowledge and address those.

Kate’s talk was followed by a presentation from Paul Kidd, which focused on the criminal law, and HIV. Paul spoke to the centrality of stigma to the criminal law, including the way that stigma is a normative function of law, which often seeks to denunciate conduct deemed to be a moral or social hazard. He also addressed the role of media in amplifying stigma, and spoke to the importance of both reforming law and addressing the role of the media in covering law. Dylan then spoke to the relationship between stigma and sex work, noting that legal approaches to sex work have historically been paternalistic, with stigma as a defining feature. Dylan also discussed reforms in Victoria which have now decriminalised sex work (as of May 2022) and the need for ongoing reforms in this space.

You can watch a recording of the full forum here.