2 min

Who’s really the victim here?

Responsibility for the spread of HIV

On Aug 23, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) issued a press release calling for information about a woman from the Lower Mainland. They publicized her name and photograph along with her physical description.

The release read in part, “It is alleged that [the accused] failed to disclose her HIV status, had unprotected sex with a male and infected him with HIV. [The accused] is a sex trade worker and is believed to have had unprotected sex with other men in the Vancouver area…. She is currently out of custody and investigators are requesting help from the public to identify any other persons who have had unprotected sexual contact, and provide any further information on the lifestyle/whereabouts of [the accused] since 2000.”

The mainstream press picked up the story and ran it the following day. (The Vancouver Sun identified the woman and ran her picture, but to its credit at least ran a more detailed examination of issues surrounding the publication of her HIV-positive status. The Sun ran the story under the headline, “Warning irks HIV/AIDS activists,” while virtually every other paper ran headlines with some variation on The Globe and Mail’s “Police seek victims of HIV-infected prostitute.”)

HIV/AIDS groups in the city obviously and quite rightly squawked when this story broke.

Previously, on Jun 15, the British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society (BCPWA) filed a complaint with the Vancouver Police Board about a similar VPD press release; this one from January and relating to a gay man charged in Vancouver with two counts of aggravated sexual assault for allegedly allowing two men, to whom he had denied he was HIV-positive, to fuck him.

The complaint alleged that the VPD violated the man’s privacy by publicizing his HIV status.

“If they were worried about others being exposed, there are public health nurses that do partner tracking,” BCPWA vice-chair Glyn Townson told me. “Our issue is that that process didn’t take place… [Police publicizing the man’s HIV status] turns it into a criminal issue rather than a health issue. There’s a lot of stigma attached with being HIV-positive. It blows it out of proportion when you get sex offender messages coming on TV.”

Townson is right. HIV is a public health issue and should be addressed by the eminently more qualified and effective public health system, not by the criminal justice system.

The woman in the Aug 23 case, regardless of what unfolds in the court system, now publicly bears the double-whammy stigma of being HIV-positive and a sex trade worker.

Nobody in their right mind actually wants to become infected with a life-changing and life-threatening virus, but everyone who is HIV-positive got the virus somewhere, from someone.

I wonder who infected the accused female sex trade worker, and I wonder if that person is also under investigation for aggravated assault. If he is, I certainly haven’t read about it in the papers and, considering our government’s record with prosecuting crimes against female sex trade workers, it seems unlikely.

I don’t know the details of the case of the woman the VPD is investigating now, but I do know that ultimate responsibility for the sexual health of her alleged victim rests only with the alleged victim himself.

It’s preposterous to characterize the accused woman as a violent criminal for allegedly lying to some man about her sexual health status; devious maybe, but certainly not criminal. It’s equally absurd that this guy is now considered a victim. If he’s a victim of anything, he’s a victim of his own bad judgment. This man took the risk of allegedly engaging in unprotected sex with the accused. If he seroconverted as a result, it’s his own fault for having unprotected sex. As a sex trade worker, the accused is in a high risk group, for heaven’s sake. Naturally she might be HIV-positive even though she allegedly said she isn’t, anyone might be.

If anyone contributed the spread HIV in this case, it’s the so-called victim.