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Friday 19 June 2009

Canada: Hamilton woman pleads guilty to HIV exposure

A 28 year-old woman from the same Ontario town as Johnson Aziga yesterday pleaded guilty of one count of aggravated sexual assault for not disclosing her HIV status to a man she met for a one-night stand in 2007. She will be sentenced in August.

The case was reported today in The Toronto Star and highlights the real problems HIV-positive Canadians are facing due to the current oppressive, discriminatory – and ultimately harmful – legal obligation to disclose before sex. When the woman was arrested in March 2007, police held a press conference saying the woman posed "huge threat". According to the CBC website on the day of the press conference:

Det. Joseph De Lottinville called [the woman] "a huge threat" to public safety, amid police fears that she deliberately slept [my italics] with a number of people without revealing that she had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Police allege that [she] has known of her HIV status since March 2003, but didn't follow the legal requirement that people with HIV disclose the condition to sexual partners.

Officers said [she] is believed to have frequented several bars in the Greater Toronto Area, specifically in Hamilton, Brantford and Toronto, particularly in its downtown Entertainment District.

More than 10 men who allegedly had sexual contact with her are being interviewed by police.

This is phrased slightly differently on, published the same day:

The 26-year-old from Hamilton was arrested on Sunday and police are alerting the public of her case. They allege she deliberately withheld [my italics] her important health information in order to have sex with men she met in bars in and around the GTA.

Detectives say [the woman] frequented bars in Hamilton, Brantford and Toronto on a regular basis and had sex with men she met at those establishments. She was diagnosed with HIV four years ago.

[She] deliberately failed to tell [my italics] one Toronto man about her HIV-status, according to police, and allegedly did the same to other men in order to have sex with them, often unprotected. Authorities are urging anyone who's had sex with her to seek medical attention immediately.

"From what we've learned, she will disclose it sometimes and she won't disclose it on other times," Det. Joseph De Lottenville said Thursday.

The use of 'deliberate' in these different ways is really interesting. The first allegation that she "deliberately slept with a number of people without revealing that she had HIV" suggests that she intended to infect these men. However the second allegations, that she "deliberately failed to tell" one man that she had a one-night stand with that she was HIV-positive, is purely about nondisclosure. The knee-jerk reaction of the police was to create the myth of a female 'HIV predator' when the reality was that she and another man agreed to have (or probably did not even discuss) unprotected sex, putting themselves equally at risk - she of infecting another to HIV, he of becoming infected with HIV. I assume the man had the capacity to protect himself. Did he really need to be specifically warned about the risks? Why, then, is he is not held responsible for putting himself at risk?

And so, even after police released the woman's name and photo for their 'fishing expedition', and even after interviewing more than ten of her other past sexual partners, she was still only charged with one count of aggravated sexual assault for nondisclosure. How then was this woman "a huge threat"? Aren't the ten or more men who slept with her without using condoms who will have gone on to sleep with others, much more of a threat?



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