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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Canada: Young gay man arrested for not disclosing to older ex

A 21 year-old gay man from New Westminster (a suburb of Vancouver, BC) has been arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault after his older ex-boyfriend complained to the police that he hadn't disclosed his (recently-diagnosed) HIV status before they both had consensual unprotected sex.

The case, reported in several local newspapers, is a perfect example of how Canada's criminal HIV exposure law has the potential do more harm than good.

The Vancouver Sun reports

[Name of man], 21, was told by his doctor that he was HIV positive, but he failed to tell his much older partner about his diagnosis prior to having unprotected sex with him, New Westminster police said in a press release.

"I think [the partner] was about 15 years older," Staff Sgt. Paul Milne told The Vancouver Sun. "They are no longer in a relationship."


"This is the first [case like this] that I've heard of in my career," Milne said.

The New Westminster Police Major Crime Unit are asking anyone who had unprotected sex with [man's name] to contact Det. Tina Chan at xxx-xxx-xxx.

The report in The Province does not mention that both complainant and accused are men, and adds the following

Police say they are "concerned for the health and safety of the public and urge any potential victim to come forward so that appropriate health measures can be taken."

Taken together the reports (and the law) suggest that unprotected sex amongst gay men is
  • incredibly rare;
  • that the HIV-positive person is 100% responsible for safer sex;
  • and that this is a Major Crime that places the public at risk.
Humbug to all of that!

A recent meta-analysis of the prevalence of unprotected anal sex amongst HIV-positive gay men in the United States published in the August 24th edition of AIDS (and reported on here) found that one-in-four HIV-positive gay men have reported unprotected sex with a man who was HIV-negative or of unknown HIV status. There's no reason to believe that the prevalence in Canada will be any different.

This a public health issue, not a criminal one; the law does not change sexual behaviour.

Picking on unlucky individuals who are brought to the attention of the police due to a complaint from a disgruntled ex (who should know better) does nothing to prevent HIV transmission in Greater Vancouver's gay community.

In fact, by suggesting that this man's behaviour is rare, and that HIV-positive gay men usually disclose their status before unprotected sex, they are doing more harm than good to the public health.

It would make much more sense for the reports (and the law) to highlight that you cannot know, or assume, that your partner is HIV-negative because either they will not know their true HIV status or because they will not tell you.

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