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Wednesday 17 November 2010

France: Gay man imprisoned for two years for infecting partner; trial debates shared responsibility

A gay man from the eastern French city of Besançon was sentenced to two years in prison last week for lying about his recently-learned HIV-positive status and then having unprotected sex with his ex- partner who is now also HIV-positive.

According to an article in Le Progres, the man, now 36, and his ex, now 29, began a relationship in 2005. They used condoms at first but after some time together decided to test for HIV so that they could have unprotected sex by mutual agreement.

But it was alleged that the accused lied to his partner, telling him that his HIV-positive test was negative. He told the court he had been "in denial" and apologised to his ex, according to a shorter AFP article, which also notes that it was only a matter of weeks before his ex discovered the letter from the HIV testing centre confirming his partner's HIV-positive status. The ex tested HIV-positive in July 2006.

The accused was charged with "administration of harmful substance causing mutilation or permanent disability."  It was alleged that only the accused could have infected the complainant because the ex only had sex with accused, whereas the accused allegedly had multiple relationships.  The reports do not mention whether phylogenetic analysis was used.

According to the AFP article, the trial included "a debate on the issue of shared responsibility in sexual matters, as opposed to the criminalisation of transmission" and the prosecutor took this principle into account by asking for a two year suspended sentence. However, last week, the court ruled that the accused bore full responsibility and was sentenced to two years in prison.  His lawyer, Claude Varet, plans to appeal.

A statement from French HIV prevention group, The Warning, notes the issue highlighted by this case. 

This trial confirms what surveys have shown for more than fifteen years: that HIV-negative individuals stop using condoms when the relationship becomes stable. This "standard" imposes a terrible strain for people with HIV because there continues to exist a high degree of discrimination and stigma against them.... Indeed, how do they disclose their HIV-positive status without fear when the likely result is the risk of rejection and the end of the relationship. 

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