A World AIDS Day press release by NSW Police warning positive people to disclose their status to sexual partners or face 25 years’ imprisonment has been condemned by local health organisations.
World AIDS Day is not a -˜timely’ occasion to implicitly demonise all HIV-positive men and women, president of PLWHA Geoff Honnor told Sydney Star Observer.
We know from a wealth of research data that most HIV-positive people engage in safe sex, most of the time. We also know that responsibility in this context works most effectively when both parties -“ positive and negative -“ exercise it jointly.
The statement released by Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) Constable Colin Anderson was made following the recent arrest of a 34-year-old gay man for failing to inform his partner of his HIV-positive status.
The man was charged with not informing his partner of a sexually transmissible medical condition and attempting to maliciously cause the contraction of a grievous bodily disease.
Honnor agreed it was wrong for people to deliberately infect others, but said the police statement missed the point.
Rather than encouraging people to dob each other in, Constable Anderson might look to how he, other GLLOs and the NSW Police in general might work with us in reinforcing a culture of care throughout our communities.
David Puls, principal solicitor of the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, told the Star the police warning was completely insensitive, but said the announcement revealed major problems with the legislation, specifically Section 13 of the Public Health Act.
The current legislation requires a person with a sexually transmissible medical condition to inform their sexual partner of the risks of infection -“ even if the couple practise safe sex.
I think that’s the most problematic area of the law -¦ because there’s no defence or there’s no exemption in the legislation for using a condom. You must give people the right to not disclose if they’re going to engage in safe-sex practices, Puls said.
Also, the ramifications of somebody disclosing their status, even to a sexual partner who at the time you trust, can be huge, Puls said. There’s no law to protect people when you tell a mate that you’re positive, and they go out and tell 20 other mates -¦
Secretary of ACON David Buchanan agreed. The barrister told the Star while ACON’s position has always been that there is no excuse for people who deliberately infect others, the organisation has sought changes to the Act since 1985.
We’ve tried to get a defence introduced to the Public Health Act of, in effect, taking reasonable precautions. And unfortunately we haven’t succeeded in persuading NSW Health that that offence needs to reflect the conditions of the HIV epidemic in current times, Buchanan said.
Buchanan also noted the police statement confused two offences.
The section 13 offence for failing to disclose has a maximum penalty of a $5,500 fine, while a person who maliciously causes the contraction of a grievous bodily disease is punishable under section 36 of the Crimes Act. This crime is punishable by up to 25 years’ imprisonment.
There’s a huge difference between those two offences, not just in terms of penalty but in terms of moral culpability, obviously, Buchanan said.