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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Canada: Editorial in gay paper impacts upon 'victim' in gay HIV exposure case

An editorial that argues that 'victims' in criminal HIV exposure and transmission cases are primarily responsible for their own sexual health, appears to have had an impact on the 55 year-old 'victim' of Ryan Handy, 25.

The editorial appeared in Canada's widely-read gay and lesbian newspaper, Xtra, and is reproduced below.

There follows a report from the London Free Press about the impact the editorial had during sentencing of Mr Handy (whose case was previously reported on this blog last year), which has now been delayed until January 31st.

(Thanks must go to an anonymous reader of this blog for alerting me to this development).

2008 will be the year of criminalization
EDITORIAL Matt Mills / Xtra / Thursday, December 20, 2007

The ongoing criminalization of HIV and queer sex gained ominous momentum in 2007 and will likely come to a head in 2008.

In November a London, Ontario man was convicted of aggravated sexual assault for having unprotected sex with a man without telling him that he is HIV-positive. The convicted man says he has struggled with mental illness for much of his life and was suffering from an emotional crisis when he met his accuser.

"We hooked up online right after my breakdown," the convicted man writes in an email to Xtra. "He said he wanted to love me like a daddy. After meeting I told him that I was a messiah, autistic, psychic and had the mind of a child. He picked me up, drove me into the country and jumped me in his car... I thought I was in love and thought that I was performing loving acts... There was no talk of HIV, protection or any sort of responsible conversation. The truth is that at the time of my arrest, at the age of 22, I was a vulnerable and completely damaged, mentally ill young man who sincerely and desperately wanted to be loved. [My accuser], a man of 51 at the time, knew that something was seriously wrong with me. Instead of addressing these issues and helping me with my mental health he took advantage of me sexually and emotionally."

The convicted man faces up to 25 years in prison while his accuser's identity is protected by a publication ban. It is a tragic comment on our society that someone who is queer, HIV-positive and living functionally with the mental illness that afflicts so many young queer people should so inevitably end up behind bars chiefly because of the complaints of another queer man who freely and foolishly chose not to roll a rubber onto his own cock.

That the so-called victims in these cases — this London case is only one of several examples that will unfold in 2008 — are pre-absolved of any responsibility for their own sexual health is patently absurd. Regardless of what they suspected or were told by their partners, unprotected sex was their choice. They were not cold-cocked and raped. No one held guns to the their heads. They weren't blackmailed or threatened. They took calculated risks and must therefore bear much of the responsibility for any consequences. It is not a complex equation.

In each of these disclosure cases the law prevents Xtra from publicizing the identities of the so-called victims, ostensibly to protect them from public humiliation. The accused, whose humiliation is complete and rooted in the horrendous and irrational stigma against queer sex and HIV, are denied the comfort of such protections. Police and the mainstream media have, in advance of any charge or trial, actively publicized their identities, health histories and other sensational gossip, effectively branding them as sex criminals.

Lawyers for the accused naturally instruct their clients not to talk on the record until criminal proceedings are concluded. Sadly that only exacerbates the double standard, leaving Xtra to pussyfoot around these stories, carefully avoiding any detail that might violate a publication ban and expose the paper to contempt allegations. Meanwhile, the mainstream media and the justice system pillory these men in the court of public opinion before locking them up.

To those queer men who have filed or are considering filing non-disclosure complaints with police: You are complicit in the criminalization of queer sex and HIV.

To the accused men in these cases: I encourage you to speak openly and on the record with us when it's safe for you to do so. Some of you will choose not to speak out, preferring to put your troubles behind you so you can get on with your lives. The exceptionally courageous few who do go on the record can help prevent these horrors from befalling others.

Magazine article silences victim
An HIV-positive man will be sentenced Jan. 31 after having unprotected sex with another man.
By Jane Sims, Sun Media.

An editorial in a gay magazine has silenced the victim of an aggravated sexual assault by an HIV-positive partner.

Yesterday, during sentencing arguments for Ryan Handy, 25, Superior Court Justice William Jenkins was told he would not be hearing any victim impact statement.

Assistant Crown attorney Peter Rollings said the victim, a 55-year-old man who cannot be identified by court order, has decided not to have his say filed with the court because of what he read in Xtra, a national gay publication.

The editorial appeared in December and in it, the writer, associate publisher and managing editor Matt Mills, chastises the victim, who was 51 at the time of the incident, for not protecting his own sexual health when he engaged in unprotected sex.

"No one held guns to their heads. They weren't blackmailed or threatened. They took calculated risks and must therefore bear much of the responsibility for any consequences," Mills wrote.

The editorial quoted an e-mail from Handy to the magazine -- without naming him -- who wrote he was "a vulnerable and completely damaged, mentally ill young man who sincerely and desperately wanted to be loved."

Rollings said the editorial made the victim "extremely distraught" and he "didn't want anything more to do with the case."

He added the editorial "advocates victims of this kind of activity to get on with life and not involve the police."

The pony-tailed Handy sat ram-rod straight at the defence table during the hearing. Through his lawyer, Craig McLean, he said he had never seen the editorial.

McLean said it was not created by his client and "should have no impact on sentence."

Handy was convicted in November after a trial at which he testified he suffered from a mental illness and believed during a major mental breakdown that he had sweated out the HIV virus.

Before the encounter with the victim, Handy believed he was the messiah and had written TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey saying Jesus was writing her through him.

He and the victim met in a gay Internet chat room in February 2005. That led to the unprotected sexual encounters, then the victim telling him he was HIV negative.

Handy said that it wasn't until after the second encounter, while he was walking home, that he realized he wasn't the messiah and he had the virus that leads to AIDS.

He e-mailed the victim, who called police.

The victim has been routinely tested for the virus since, but has not developed it.

McLean suggested a two-year conditional sentence and asked Jenkins to take into account Handy's mental illness and remorse.

Handy's illness is under control through medication and medical care, McLean said, and his risk to reoffend is low.

At the time of the assaults, he said, Handy was "suffering a major mental illness."

Handy has no criminal record and his friends and family called "this type of offence out of character," McLean said.

Rollings asked Jenkins to consider a three-year prison sentence to send a message to the community. He asked if Jenkins decides against prison, to consider jail plus probation. Jenkins will make his decision Jan. 31.



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