About the film

About Consent

In April 2014, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network convened leading feminist scholars, front-line workers, activists and legal experts for a ground-breaking dialogue on the (mis)use of sexual assault laws in cases of HIV non-disclosure. The conclusions of the dialogue demonstrated this approach both over-extends the criminal law against people living with HIV and threatens to damage hard-won legal definitions of consent aimed at protecting women’s equality and sexual autonomy.

To share this analysis and spur further discussion, the Legal Network, together with Goldelox Productions, produced the short film Consent: HIV non-disclosure and sexual assault law (2015). This 28-minute documentary film features eight leading experts in HIV, sexual assault and law. Their commentaries hone in on controversial HIV-related legal developments in Canada, where a person living with HIV can be prosecuted for aggravated sexual assault if they do not reveal their HIV-positive status before having sex in certain circumstances. These powerful and incisive commentaries highlight the problematic intersection of sexual assault law and the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. The film interrogates whether criminalizing HIV non-disclosure in fact protects sexual autonomy and dignity, as posited by the Supreme Court, or instead does injustice both to individuals charged and to our criminal justice system’s approach to sexual violence.

At a time when society seems to be taking the prevalence of sexual violence and rape culture more seriously, this film dares to ask some difficult questions about its limits in the law. The law of sexual assault is intended to protect women’s sexual autonomy, equality and dignity, yet as applied with respect to alleged HIV non-disclosure, these values are not necessarily being advanced. Through expert testimonies, Consent shines a light on the systemic obstacles women face in disclosing their HIV status, points to the dangerous health and human rights outcomes of applying such a harsh charge as aggravated sexual assault to HIV non-disclosure, and makes the argument that the law needs to better protect those who are living with and vulnerable to HIV. Consent demonstrates that advocacy efforts opposing the overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure must address the use of sexual assault law and that such efforts must do so alongside feminist allies.