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London man found guilty in HIV case

An HIV-positive London, Ontario man was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault on Nov 20 for knowingly spreading the virus through unprotected sex in 2005.

The 25-year-old, who has suffered from depression and delusions, will be sentenced in January. His accuser testified that he has not tested positive since the unprotected sex.

Superior Court Justice William Jenkins said he believes the convicted man was suffering from a mental illness, but the disorder “did not render him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of his conduct or the fact his conduct was wrong.

“I am satisfied he knew when he had unprotected sex that he was HIV-positive and that it was wrong to have unprotected sex,” Jenkins said.

But HIV/AIDS groups say criminalizing nondisclosure of HIV status is the wrong approach to take.

“We think that the use of criminal law can be really problematic,” says Alison Symington, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “It would be better dealt with as a public health issue.”

Symington says there is no evidence to suggest that similar prosecutions have done anything to slow the spread of HIV.

“In fact there’s reason to think it causes people to defer testing and gives people a false sense of security,” she says. “We need to be encouraging testing and encouraging people to protect themselves.”

Symington says criminalizing also adds to the stigma around the disease and drives those with HIV or AIDS underground.

“If you look at the media coverage it can be quite sensationalistic,” she says. “I think that adds to the stigma.”