Should Keeping Mums About One’s HIV Status Be a Criminal Offense?

December 14, 2011  |  

Should people who knowingly have HIV be charged criminally for not telling their sexual partners about their status?

I ask this because the other day, I was watching a trailer for a work in progress documentary called 25 TO LIFE, which is about a young man by the name of William Brawner, who kept his HIV status a secret for over twenty-five years. Yes, I said a secret for 25 years. Of course his family knew and they were the ones, who encouraged him to never speak of his status, even to lovers.

And many lovers he did have.  In fact, he was such a hot commodity that he often saw his lovers, many of which were from both his hometown of Philly and from Howard University, as “his next conquests.” Sometimes, he would engage in these sexual “conquests” without the use of protection.  But eventually, Brawner’s consciousness caught up with him and he began to feel terribly sad.  So he decided to embark on a journey to apologize and let them in on the status that he probably, more than likely, should have told them prior to engaging in sexual intercourse.

Today, Brawner is a father and a husband of a woman, who he alerted to his status prior to marriage. He is also a HIV activist, who has been to almost 50 colleges and high schools, raising awareness of HIV and proving by his very existence that AIDS doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Moreover, his life was the subject of a 2008 cover story for the Philadelphia Weekly about his works with HIV-positive youth at a neighborhood warehouse he had worked to transform into a refuge and safe haven. It is clear that over the years, Brawner has done wonderful things in life, despite his status, to promote education and healthy lifestyles, especially among young people. But while the producers of the film see his story as both a wake up call and warning to the ladies to take ownership of their sexual health, his cautionary tale could conceivably be grounds for criminal charges.

Although he finally manned up and told the truth and blessedly none of the women he has contacted via the film have tested positive for the virus (as far as he knows), what responsibility does he bare for not telling these women something so life altering and possible deadly?

I’d like to think that the vast majority of people infected with STDs take steps to prevent others from being infected. As time has passed since the world awoken to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s, we are starting to see more stories of folks taking a more blasé, if not predatory, attitude to the virus.  For instance, take the story of the 22-year old New York City man, who was arrested and convicted of knowingly infecting 13 women and girls with HIV, and possibly 50 others. And the story of the 38-year old married man from the UK, who was arrested after it was learned that he slept with hundreds of women around the world without informing them of his HIV-positive status. And most recently, the 52-year-old Richmond, Virginia man, who is looking at 10 years behind bars for his conviction of having sex with a 14-year-old girl without telling her he was infected with the AIDS virus.  In those instances, it is clear that the person had little to no regard for people and probably deserved to be criminally charged and imprisoned for their actions.

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