New official guidance which makes it clear that people with HIV have the same legal hate crime protection as other disabled people should make it easier for them to report offences, say campaigners.
There had been concerns that the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) existing guidance on disability hate crime excluded people living with HIV.
But after receiving evidence from the National Aids Trust (NAT), the CPS has issued new guidance which makes it clear that offenders who commit a crime against someone with HIV which is aggravated by hostility towards people with HIV, should face tougher sentences.
Campaigner Maurice Hebert, who himself lives with HIV, said the CPS move sends out the signal that people living with HIV were “being taken seriously”, and would help “legitimise” their experiences.
He said: “These things take time, but eventually we will see people being a lot more comfortable with stepping forward and reporting HIV-related hate crime.”
Hebert said such crimes were “a very important issue” for people with HIV, but many were concerned that their complaints to police would not be dealt with properly, and that their confidentiality would not be respected.
He added: “The more we can tackle stigma, the more we will put people at ease to report HIV-related hate crime.”
NAT said the “stigmatised nature of HIV” meant it was “vitally important that people living with HIV received the same protections as other disabled people from the moment they are diagnosed”.
The charity, which has been campaigning on the issue since 2008 – with support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission – said it “warmly welcomes” the new guidance.
Deborah Jack, NAT’s chief executive, said: “The publication of this revised guidance brings to an end the legal disadvantage faced by people living with HIV who are victims of hate crime.
“By issuing this statement, the CPS has sent out a clear message that HIV-related hate crime will not be tolerated.”
Nadine Tilbury, senior legal advisor for the CPS, said: “Crimes against people living with HIV which are motivated by hostility towards their status have no place in our society and we will prosecute those responsible robustly and, where there is sufficient evidence to do so, we will apply to the court for more severe sentences.”
NAT said it would work with organisations that support people living with HIV to ensure that they know about the new guidance and can support those who have been hate crime victims.