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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Australia: HIV-positive sex worker pleads guilty; NAPWA comments on stigmatising handling of case

The HIV-positive male sex worker named and shamed by Canberra health officials last week has pleaded guilty to providing a commercial sexual service while knowing he was infected with a sexually-transmitted infection (i.e. HIV) and failing to register as a sex worker.

The story is widely reported in the Australasian press, primarily via a report from the AAP.

The report says that it is illegal, under Australian Capital Territory (ACT) laws, to provide or receive commercial sexual services if the person knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that he or she is infected with an STI. It is also illegal to work as a prostitute in the ACT without being part of a brothel or escort agency which is registered with the Office of Regulatory Services.

The man is expected to be sentenced on March 20th.

Australia's National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) have strongly criticised the way Canberra's public health officials handled the case, according to a report in Australia's national gay and lesbian paper, SX, reports:

“The appropriate public health approach has not been followed in the case of Mr Hector Scott; instead he’s been subjected to trial by media … It appears ACT Health has panicked and bypassed the significant public health interventions at its disposal, choosing instead to refer this case to the police. This is not helpful … it perpetuates stigma against people with HIV, and it discourages people at risk of HIV from testing and treatment.”

NAPWA also slammed the decision by the ACT chief health officer to release personal details about the accused to the media. “For a government agency to release personal and confidential information in this way has been a great shock and affront to many of us … It is dangerous to the individual, dangerous to those who are by implication connected to his alleged activities, and dangerous for anyone living with HIV to see human rights and personal dignities trampled over in this way.”



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