A rather disturbing developent from New Zealand highlights the tensions within the gay community over responsibility for HIV transmission during consensual, casual sex.
Update: The story has now gone mainstream, and it's becoming clear that this may well be New Zealand's version of the Michael Neal case. TVNZ.com features a five minute news report here, with a further story today on GayNZ.com. It seems the sex is consensual, but not casual: it is alleged he 'grooms' younger men, who fall in love with him, and who agree to have unprotected sex, without him disclosing his HIV status. As emotive as this may sound, let's remember that these are allegations and this is trial by media.
GayNZ.com appears to behind a campaign to prosecute an HIV-positive gay man in Auckland who is allegedly meeting men on the internet for unprotected sex. Although it's not clear whether he has actually committed any crime, GayNZ.com refers to him as an 'HIV predator' and has run six stories about him in the last three days.
The campaign began on May 12th:To their credit, later the same day they published another story featuring quotes from the New Zeland AIDS Foundation highlighting that the man's alleged behaviour was not typical of HIV-positive people in general, and that such rumours can perpetuate stigma and discrimination against all HIV-positive people.
GayNZ.com several days ago became aware of up to seven men in their late teens and early twenties, with one as young as seventeen, who claim that they have been infected through unprotected sex with the same man who is understood to know that he has the debilitating and sometimes deadly virus.
Auckland police became aware of the case following GayNZ.com enquiries, including an attempt to speak with the man, who is being described as "a cold, calculated predator" by a close associate of one of the infected men.
None of the infected men have felt able to discuss the matter with GayNZ.com except through intermediaries, and none have so far laid a formal complaint with the police. It is understood most of them have been in contact with HIV support organisations for up to six months.
"we are unable to comment on things that are currently in process, but are very concerned that as this case becomes more widely known, the HIV positive community may be further held in disrespect by the glbt and wider communities, due to the actions of one irresponsible HIV positive man."
"Allegations and rumour can, and do, result in discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV as a group, says the Foundation's Executive Director, Rachael LeMesurier. "Therefore it is important to note that these cases are not the norm. NZAF research has found that the majority of people living with HIV are very responsible when it comes to using condoms and lube for anal sex."
However, minutes later they published another story featuring an interview with a man using the pseudonym 'Max'.
"He targets young and vulnerable guys," says 'Max', a man with a high profile in the LGBT community who has been providing support for one of the HIV infected young men. He has requested use of a pseudonym to protect the identity and wellbeing of one of the alleged victims whom he is assisting. "He makes them feel special and tells them that he loves them. They feel they love him. They become besotted with him. He develops a grip on them. He cuts them off from their family and friends."
Max understands that at least two of the HIV infected victims broached the subject of his actions and HIV status with the man, "but he convinces them it's 'just vicious gossip' from gay people who don't like him." Such is the influence the man apparently exerts over his victims none has reported the matter to the police and several are understood to still be protective of him. "One young guy acknowledges that he got HIV from this man but neither he nor his family have gone to the police," observes Max. "I advised him that this man is evil and should go to prison but the youth just got upset about that prospect."
"It's devastating for these young men. To be infected with HIV in your teens is terrible," says Max. "Somehow this guy has to be stopped."
Finally, today, they ran a story confirming that the police are now investigating the man after a formal complaint was lodged.
"The investigation is now a formal investigation," says Detective Andy King of the Adult Sexual Assault Team. "What we had before today was information that this situation was potentially ocurring. But now we have a formal complaint from a male in the community who is alleging that he has been deliberately infected with HIV by another male."
King says his team is taking the complaint "very seriously" and that three police officers are now working on an official investigation of the matter. "We will now be looking to corroborate the information we have received from the complainant," says King, who says he prefers not to give any details of the complainant or the complaint at this stage of the investigation.