I know, as always, that I'm the oddball on this issue, but I just don't think the long arm of the law is the best way to deal with HIV as a public health problem. It only increases stigma, puts poz people in a place where HIV spreads more freely than in the outside world, and has never been shown to alleviate anyone's suffering. (And, yes, I have a pragmatic streak so defenses of throwing people in prison that are based on "retribution" or "He knew the law before he broke it so screw him" tend to bounce off of me.)
Anyway, this sort of thing is inevitable when having sex while seropositive is illegal:
In May, Steven Paul Boone, 29, was charged with aggravated sexual assault for allegedly knowingly failing to disclose his HIV-positive status to another Ottawa man, now 18, who contracted the disease after the two had unprotected sex in January and February.
After charging Mr. Boone with the first count in May, the Ottawa Police Service took what it called "the extraordinary measure" of releasing his photo to local media.
Further aggravating tensions between police and the gay community, Ottawa police Inspector Joan McKenna, who co-chairs the force's gay liaison committee, emailed a news release about Mr. Boone in May. The subject line read "sexual predator."
Remember, Boone has only been charged, he hasn't been convicted, but now even if he is acquitted or manages to prove his innocence, future employers will only have to Google his name to assume he's a seropositive sex predator.
And here's the crux of the problem: the police now think that they're public health officials, not just implementing public health policy but actually developing it themselves:
"The release of the photo has proved to be very important aspect of the investigation from both an investigative and, more importantly, a public health perspective," said Acting Inspector John McGetrick.
How does he know that it'll help, from "a public health perspective"? Is McGetrick up to date on the latest studies of HIV and how it spreads? Does he have any proof that locking someone up will actually reduce infection rates? Has he studied the messages the Canadian government is sending about prevention and analyzed how releasing this photo works to support or complement them? Does he know the first thing about convincing populations to use condoms during casual sex? Does he have experience with safer sex education?
Or is he just a cop who thinks that locking up someone who did something bad is the best way to solve any problem, so he declares himself an expert?
Moreover, why should we believe that those accusations are all true without a conviction? While the article implies that Canadian police are allowed to disclose someone's HIV status this way, isn't the justification for an authoritarian power grab by the police always grounded in protecting the public's safety some way? If we automatically believed that people are guilty just because the police accuse them of being guilty, we wouldn't need all those pesky lawyers and judges and trials and courts. We'd just lock them up for being accused.
Either way, relying more on police to fight HIV is the path both Canada and the US are headed down.
Where Canadian courts are concerned, people infected with HIV by sexual partners are increasingly being treated as victims of crime. A report by the Global Network of People Living with HIV says Canada's 63 HIVrelated criminal convictions as of last November put it second only to the United States, where more than 300 such cases have been successfully prosecuted.
In April 2009, the first conviction for killing someone with HIV was registered in Canada when a Hamilton jury found Johnson Aziga guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Two women he had had sex with later died of AIDS.
Mr. Bauer argued before the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday that the public health infrastructure, not law enforcement, should deal with most cases where an HIV-positive person may have had unprotected sex with unsuspecting partners.
It takes two people to spread HIV, an entire community to make it a public health problem, and a population to solve that problem. If we just pluck out a person or two out of that system every now and then and punish them, then we're doing nothing to address the real issue.
That assumes that our goal is to actually prevent the transmission of HIV, and I'm not so sure that everyone's working towards that. Since the world we're living in now uses punishment and suffering as the solution to any problem, from unemployment to poor education, one would almost think punishment is an end in and of itself.