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Sunday 21 June 2009

US: Louisiana sex worker 'railroaded' with "attempted intentional exposure" charge following prostitution arrest

A 39-year-old male sex worker has been charged under Louisiana's HIV exposure law for not disclosing his HIV status to an undercover cop prior to his arrest for prostitution.

The details of the case, from the, read like something out of a Kafka short story. The charge is "attempted intentional exposure". He is being charged with not telling a prospective client that he was HIV-positive whilst propositioning him. That assumes that the sex worker would not have disclosed later, or - far more importantly - used a condom.

Rather more worryingly, "attempted intentional exposure" does not appear to be a crime.

The story not only includes the sex worker's full name, but also his address. It works as a 'fishing expedition' for potential complainants.

Deputies are also unsure whether he spread the disease to others before his arrest. “He’s known for quite sometime he was a carrier,” Stewart said. “If someone comes forward, we will investigate it further.”

If someone does come forward, he will be charged with "intentional exposure to AIDS", which, in Louisiana, means not disclosing one's HIV status before having any kind of contact with someone - and that includes biting or spitting. The actual wording is "...through sexual contact or through any means or contact". A 1993 appeal found that the statute was neither too vague nor too broad and it has not been challenged since. The law, then, is an open invitation to discriminate against anyone with HIV in the state. And so, if you happen to be an HIV-positive sex worker who doesn't advertise your HIV status whilst touting for business and you are unlucky enough to be touting that business to an undercover cop who was planning to arrest you anyway, you are an easy target.

The arrest took place in small city of Houma, Louisiana. The sex worker, already targeted as one of the 13 other individuals for a city-wide prostitution and drug bust, had allegedly propositioned the undercover cop before his arrest.

After initiating a conversation with the male deputy, [the accused] allegedly began discussing price and method of payment for sex, Stewart said. He did not mention having HIV, [Major Darryl Stewart of the Narcotics Task Force] said. “He did not make any comments at the time of our operation,” Stewart said. “If it hadn’t been an undercover (deputy) involved in that operation, it could have been someone else.”

[The accused] was one of 13 arrested during the operation, which targeted west-Houma neighborhoods, Stewart said. Deputies checked whether those arrested had HIV or AIDS, as is common after such a bust, Stewart said. “We want to make sure with people out there involved in drug use and prostitution,” Stewart said. “We believe people need to be aware of the different possibilities that can happen.”

The sex worker – and the police – had discovered his HIV-positive status following a prior prostitution arrest. The report says it is unclear whether the HIV test had been voluntary.

[The accused] learned he had HIV during a health screening after a prior arrest, Stewart said. Inmates record their medical history when admitted to the parish jail, but an HIV test is not routinely performed, said Maj. LeeRoy Lirette, the warden. A test can be given at the inmate’s expense if he requests it. Lirette said he is unsure whether Duplantis requested an HIV test during a prior incarceration.

The man is currently serving six months in prison for the prostitution offence. He would face up to ten years hard labour if found guilty of "intentional exposure to AIDS" - it's unclear what the sentence might be for "attempted intentional exposure."


Internet Badass said...

You can't possibly think that its ok for a guy to be a prostitute and be HIV positive? I mean, isn't the first goal in this fight PREVENTION? I think the "attempted" charge is a stretch for law enforcement but when you realize just how hard Louisiana has been hit by this disease you can see the reasoning behind some of the crazy attempts to stop those who would put others at risk, with or with out concent.

Paul said...

Regina - I'm writing this from London (England) where we have several thousand people with HIV - around 2000 just at the clinic where I am an HIV patient.

'isn't the first goal... prevention'? Actually, there are two goals: prevention and care/treatment. In other words, this is a health issue, not judicial one. What emerges from this case is irrational fear of HIV along with moralising, when a more measured approach and greater knowledge would have demonstrated to the police officer and the judge that nothing happened here that constitutes a crime (they had a conversation, that's all). They also assume (on what basis?) that condoms would not have been used, that the sex-worker would not have insisted on safer sex, or would never have mentioned his HIV status - if indeed it would have been appropriate to do so. We don't even know from this story what form the sex was to take - what was the policeman negotiating, exactly? A quick hand-job in the back of a car, or something more... time-consuming at home? For risk of HIV transmission, that's a big difference!

Looking through the HIV data for Louisiana (I checked) a more disturbing picture emerges, though. Here in UK around two-thirds of people with diagnosed HIV are on treatment (slightly more at my own clinic) thanks to our National Health Service. As you know, undetectable viral load = very low infectiousness; that + condoms reduces it still further to negligible. Was this man on treatments? It doesn't even get a mention!

As for the drug use that figures large in the Daily Comet article - damage-limitation through needle-exchanges would help surely.

Is it okay for someone to be a sex-worker and be HIV-positive? Actually, it's okay for a person with HIV to be pretty much any kind of worker as long as they take reasonable precautions appropriate to their trade. The only thing to fear, it seems, is ignorance.

Edwin J Bernard said...

Thank you both for your comments. In Louisiana, it is estimated that around 50% of people with HIV are undiagnosed. Many studies conducted in North America have found that only a tiny number of transmissions take place from people who are diagnosed compared with those who are undiagnosed (and almost none from people on treatment). I am advocating for the equal human rights of individuals living with HIV because the protection of people living with HIV from discrimination is as important as the protection of people at risk of HIV transmission from HIV. Why? Because law is in a much better position to ensure the former, rather than the latter - it is a very crude prevention tool. Rather than the criminal law focusing on people who are already living with HIV, the legal system should be making sure the untested are diagnosed. That is actually the most important prevention goal. Ensuring privacy, equality and nondiscrimination will help much more towards that goal than selectively prosecuting individuals for nondisclosure (especially here where no harm has been done). HIV-positive individuals have a right to sex, to have children, to earn a living, and to be treated fairly and respectfully by their fellow citizens and the law. In return, we have a responsibility not to transmit the virus to the best of our ability. So, yes, it is perfectly ok to be an HIV-positive sex worker. And of course, sex workers should make sure they don't put their clients at risk of HIV transmission, just as clients should make sure that they are protected.

JoJo Liner said...

i agree to the fact that it's the sex worker's job and the client's job to provide their own protection. but to what extent are my tax dollars responsible for making someone with the lacking character who would solicit a male prostitute, much less IN THIS TOWN, ...? i say you get what you pay for. you wanna pick up filth, then you should probably be responsible for your actions. who knows? he might've told that he was positive.... you think so?
mid bj.... "oh by the way".. that's a nice way to get killed. so i don't think he had any intention of telling anyone. i remember when this place was a great place to grow up. when you could drive through town without dodging transients and hookers downtown. hurricanes and poverty turn desperate people into savages. it's just a shame.


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