Criminalisation for Sexual Transmission of HIV: Emerging Issues and the Impact Upon Clinical Psychology Practice in the UK
Rodohan, Eamonn Patrick
Objective: Criminal liability for the sexual-transmission of HIV raises complex questions for both clinicians and service-users regarding their responsibilities and legal obligations to disclose information to others. This is the first research study to address the impact of these issues upon everyday clinical and professional management in the UK. The prevalence and incidence of clinical and HIV-legal issues reported by the 107 psychologists sampled are reported. Design: A cross-sectional approach comprising two components was utilised: Firstly, questionnaire survey (Response rate 22%) scoping the experiences of practice issues among psychologists from sexual-health and generic settings. Attitudes towards HIV-prosecutions and various measures of professional self-efficacy were also collected. Secondly, three focus groups (N=15) exploring the impact of practice issues upon clinicians’ likely confidentiality breaking behaviours. Methods: Clinical and legal issues are presented. Further statistical analyses explored the interaction of various demographic, clinical and attitudinal variables upon clinician’s perceived self-efficacy. Focus Group transcripts analysed using Thematic Analysis (Data-driven approach) with eight emergent themes. Results: Although no direct involvements in police investigations reported, two instances of psychology notes being subpoenaed plus multiple ‘near miss’ clinical experiences described. High proportions of sexual-health psychologists experienced HIV-clients disclosing problematic behaviours, including intentional transmission (9%; N=5) and/or ‘reckless’ behaviour (72%). Focus groups expressed high levels of anxiety regarding these scenarios associated to multiple influences (interpersonal, clinician, professional and service factors). Quantitative and qualitative results were triangulated to provide a detailed analysis of how psychologists manage the clinical impact of the issues. Conclusions: Psychologists broadly supported HIV-prosecutions for intentional transmission (81%) but only limited support around ‘reckless’ cases (44%), particularly among those sexual-health experienced. Those ‘critical’ attempted to mitigate the impact of legal issues by proactively raising awareness among HIV-clients and resisting overly-defensive service changes; whereas those ‘less-critical’ were more accepting. Clinical, training and therapeutic implications are briefly considered.