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Monday, 21 September 2009

Sweden: 20 year-old man previously convicted of HIV exposure arrested again

A 20 year-old Swedish man who was released from prison in January 2009 after serving 16 months of a two-year sentence for HIV exposure has been arrested again following allegations that he had unprotected sex without disclosure with a 15 year-old girl.

Although the case is briefly summarised in English in a report in The Local, much more detail is provided in the Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet.

According to this report, the young man from Linköping was originally diagnosed in April 2007, at the age of 17, after having had unprotected sex with his HIV-positive girlfriend at the time, despite knowing her HIV status.

Following his diagnosis, he appeared to go on something of a bender, sleeping with seven young women without disclosing his status or wearing a condom. None became HIV-positive. He was arrested in September 2007 (previously reported on my blog here) and the case went to court in January 2008.

His defence was that he was in denial.

I rätten försvarade han sig med att han var chockad och inte kunde ta till sig informationen. (In court he defended himself that he was shocked and could not absorb the information.)
He was found guilty of attempted aggravated assault and sentenced to two years in prison. He was also ordered to pay 40,000 Swedish Krona (around €4000) in damages to each of the seven young women.

Released after 16 months' prison, in January 2009 he moved back to Linköping.

Last Friday, he was picked up for questioning by police following a complaint from a 15 year-old girl that he had had unprotected sex without disclosing his HIV status.

Prosecutor, Britt-Louise Viklund told Linköping District Court:
Han erkänner och skyller på att han var alkoholpåverkad. Han hade tillgång till kondom men använde den inte, säger Britt-Louise Viklund. ("He recognises and blames it on the fact that he was under the influence of alcohol. He had access to condoms but did not use them.")
His defence lawyer argued, unsuccessfully, that her client had changed.
Han är djupt ångerfull över det här, han har förändrat sitt beteende mycket den senaste tiden och han menade att det inte finns någon risk för fortsatt brottslighet, säger hans advokat Morgan Gerdin. (He is deeply remorseful over this: he has recently changed his behaviour and says that there is no risk of further crime," said his lawyer, Morgan Gerdin.)
However, the court decided that the risk was so great that he would expose more women to the risk of infection that he has been remanded in custody until his trial.

The case reveals much about the difficulties of a punitive approach to HIV non-disclosure and the Swedish system's inability to deal with a young man unable to come to terms with his diagnosis.

Surely prison is not working as a deterrent, nor has it rehabilitated him. Some of the comments from readers of The Local suggest far more draconian measures, including a tattoo on his forehead, castration and a slow a painful death. I have reported the latter suggestions (such as "Cover him in gasoline and BURN him!") as hate speech under The Local's 'report abuse' policy. Let's see if they remove such comments.

Issues such as inflammatory media coverage of HIV exposure/transmission cases, and how public health laws are also being used (and abused) in such cases were discussed in Stockholm in June 2009 at an excellent one-day symposium, HIV and Criminal Law, organised by HIV-Sweden.

You can download a pdf report of the meeting here or email HIV-Sweden to request a hard copy.

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