ONTD Political

Manhunt is no way to deal with HIV-positive minor

2:47 pm - 08/09/2011
Edmonton teen needed help, not a virtual posse hunting her down

EDMONTON - Last Friday afternoon, the Edmonton Police Service issued an urgent news bulletin. Officers were on the lookout for suspect accused of at least two cases of aggravated sexual assault.

Police released the suspect’s name and photograph to every media outlet, and posted it on the EPS website, imploring the public to call in with tips.

It was a 21st century, high-tech version of an Old West “Wanted” poster — with the whole community deputized, through the blanket media coverage, as members of the posse.

It worked. The fugitive was spotted by tipsters hitchhiking west out of town and later apprehended by RCMP in Edson.

So should we all breathe a sigh of relief? After all, an accused serial sexual assailant is now in custody.

But this case isn’t quite so simple.

The accused in this case is a slim 17-year-old girl, a minor, a child of the streets, who, according to police, lives without a fixed address in Old Strathcona.

She isn’t accused of forcing anyone to have sex against his will.

Instead, three unnamed men, whose identities are protected by the rape shield law, have complained to police that this girl had consensual sex with them without first disclosing the fact that she was allegedly HIV positive.

Normally, under the terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, police aren’t allowed to release the name or photograph of an accused under the age of 18.

In this instance, the police sought and were granted an order to identify this girl for the purpose of finding her and taking her into custody. The order allowed them to spread her photograph and her medical condition far and wide.

The teenager was arrested Saturday. But even after she was safely in custody, police continued to send out that damning private information to the press, despite the fact that the court order was only granted for the purposes of taking the minor into custody. Many media outlets, including this one, followed the police department’s lead, temporarily naming the girl and broadcasting her picture.

The Edmonton police department only removed the girl’s name and picture from its website Monday morning.

Too little, too late. In this Internet age, she will never have her privacy back. Her name and face are out there for anyone with Google to find.

The police won’t say how or why they believe the girl is HIV positive, nor will they release the court order they sought, granting permission to name her.

How did this teen come to be living on the streets? How did she come to be infected with HIV — if, indeed, she is? Where are her parents, her guardians? Is she a ward of the province? If not, should she have been? Is she a drug addict? Was she trading on sex to survive? Does she have a mental health condition, or any other kind of cognitive impairment, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which would diminish her capacity to make prudent, responsible sexual choices?

We don’t know the answers to any of those key questions.

If, as police allege, this teen does have a dangerous communicable disease, the Crown had a very legitimate reason to want to find her, and to find her previous sexual partners. But the Alberta government already has plenty of powers under the Public Health Act and the Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act to apprehend her, trace back her sexual contacts, and get them all appropriate care and counselling.

Treating her like a dangerous criminal on the lam, rather than a sick, desperate and vulnerable minor, may not have been the most useful or appropriate strategy to dealing with a public health problem. Criminalize the disease, and you only add to the stigma and shame that keep people from disclosing their HIV status in the first place.

“If your goal is to protect the public, you don’t jump right to putting up wanted posters,” says Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Toronto

“This isn’t a bank robber, running around with a gun. But when it comes to HIV, there’s an immediate panic that sets in. People think there are these HIV predators out there on the loose.”

Under Canadian criminal law, a person who is HIV positive has a duty to disclose his or her status before engaging in conduct that poses a “significant risk” of transmitting the virus. Any failure to disclose is treated as a form of fraud, which renders the other person’s consent to have sex invalid — and which turns otherwise consensual sex into an assault in the eyes of the law.

Elliott says Canadian courts have prosecuted approximately 130 people with HIV/AIDS for having sex without informing their partners of their health status, giving us one of the highest rates of such prosecutions in the world. But of those prosecutions, he says, only about a dozen of the accused have been women, and few, if any, have been minors.

Of course, we want everyone who tests positive for HIV, or any other sexually transmitted infection, to inform their partners before sex. No one should ever spread any venereal disease, be it HIV or syphilis or herpes, maliciously or recklessly. Having sex without telling your partner you’re infected is wrong. But that shouldn’t absolve the rest of us of taking responsibility for our own sexual choices.

There’s an old legal adage: “The risk to be perceived defines the duty to be obeyed.” In this day and age, if you decide to have casual unprotected sex, you have to assume a certain degree of risk.

At least three men allegedly chose to have sex — unprotected sex, it would seem — with a 17-year-old homeless girl. Their sexual behaviour was also irresponsible, perhaps even exploitative. Yet they’re the victims whose identities are protected, while she is the accused criminal, pilloried in the virtual public square.

Sadly, it’s far easier for the police to launch a successful media manhunt for one sick girl, than it is for our community to deal with the social woes that put her on the street, diseased and desperate, in the first place.

iolarah 9th-Aug-2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
I don't know why, but even before I saw the tags or read the article, I had a sick feeling that this was going to turn out to be a Canadian story :(

I hope that she's at least able to get some help out of what I can only assume would be a humiliating experience. HIV+ or not, she should still be treated with dignity. And if she's HIV-, well damn. That's a stigma that will linger :[

eta: somewhat related, maybe someone can post this--I've got to get back to work: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/fp/yourmoney/NOTIFYING/5224670/story.html

Edited at 2011-08-09 09:28 pm (UTC)
squid_ink 9th-Aug-2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
UGH that is just so.. .UGH. Unless you're going to prostitutes or having semi anonymous sex... this is really galling.

I hope the girl in the story gets help. The way she's been hunted down is beyond dicked up.
fuckfrosti 9th-Aug-2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
The age of consent here is 16, so it's not statutory rape.

To be honest, I also side-eyed the tone of the paragraph where the author shifts the focus to the men that had sex with her. I mean, aren't they victims of aggravated sexual assault if these charges are valid?
dangerousdame 9th-Aug-2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
fuckfrosti 9th-Aug-2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of unknowns here. And mitigating factors, as well.
thelilyqueen 9th-Aug-2011 10:13 pm (UTC)
I'd say it's a tough question... I couldn't decide without details that really aren't any of the public's business.

If she knew her HIV status and what it entailed and wasn't in fear for her life/physical safety if she disclosed, she knowingly and unnecessarily exposed anyone she had unprotected sex with (and anyone who later had sex with them, and so on) to a deadly disease.

Those are big assumptions though. She may not have fully grasped the ramifications of her disease due to mental incapacity or not getting into a HIV education program, there may have been elements of sexual coercion if not outright rape on the part of the men, etc. Those things along with her age would decrease, if not eliminate, her responsibility.
roseofjuly 9th-Aug-2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
The other thing is that HIV isn't a disease. It's a virus. AIDS is the disease.
thelilyqueen 9th-Aug-2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
I'm well aware of the fact it's a virus.

If someone's positive for HIV they have a communicable disease they can spread to others. The fact they may not be symptomatic unless/until it progresses further is sort of beside the point, IMHO.

Unless I missed something in reading your comment? It's late enough in the day for me that's certainly possible.
roseofjuly 10th-Aug-2011 03:24 am (UTC)
If someone's positive for HIV they have a communicable disease

No, that's my point. They don't have a communicable disease. They have a virus that they can transmit to others. That virus then may progress into a disease. But HIV itself is not a disease.

And to be clear, I am not being picky to be picky. Conflation between virus and disease is one of the reasons HIV has the stigma that it has.

Edited at 2011-08-10 03:26 am (UTC)
thelilyqueen 10th-Aug-2011 03:50 am (UTC)
So, I started writing something very torturedly wordy, then deleted it.

What term would you prefer I use then, when HIV *is* the infectious, transmissible bit an uninfected person would be worried about coming into contact with? 'If someone's positive for HIV they have a communicable virus'? The common illnesses often termed communicable diseases like the flu act through a virus or bacteria too but we still call them communicable diseases.

And, I agree it's sad it has the stigma it does. It's a virus like any other... whether (general) you get an established infection depends on things like whether or not you're exposed to it and how, genetic factors, and sheer dumb luck - not divine displeasure.
roseofjuly 10th-Aug-2011 03:59 am (UTC)
A virus? That's what it is.

There's an emerging term in the field - "HIV disease." It properly refers to someone experiencing symptoms of immunosuppression (fatigue, skin rashes, ulcers, weight loss, chronic infection with normally acute illnesses that get progressively worse in severity) without having a full-blown AIDS diagnosis. It's usually the stage after the asymptomatic/latent HIV infection but before AIDS.
roseofjuly 9th-Aug-2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
I don't think a person failing to disclose HIV to their partner should be considered "aggravated sexual assault."
fuckfrosti 9th-Aug-2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
I dunno - I think it was warranted with this guy:

roseofjuly 10th-Aug-2011 03:43 am (UTC)

"I am a man of consciousness," Aziga told the court. "I listen to it. It is clear, unambiguous and unmistakable. I had no intention to deliberately pass on my HIV to anyone."

Aziga, 54, also said he planned to get HIV tattooed on the palms of his hands so women he meets know he is positive.

He said he didn't disclose his HIV status because of sociological and ethno-cultural barriers, religion and taboos.

The Ugandan-born Aziga said that in sub-Saharan Africa, where he was raised, there was no education on sex, sex health or sexuality.

Aziga argues that he didn't have the proper education. The state argues that he knowingly spread disease. This being the first time I've ever heard of this case...I don't know whether he's lying or not.

Even if it is the latter - we don't charge people who have sex with syphilis or herpes with aggravated sexual assault. ASA also includes wounding, maiming and disfiguring along with endangering the life of someone. Herpes is a permanent disease that disfigures and wounds genital areas; syphilis, although curable, if allowed to go without treatment can cause neurological damage. Chlamydia can cause infertility and other long-term reproductive health problems primarily in women.

I submit that HIV gets this special status of turning a consensual act of unprotected sex into aggravated assault because of fear and stigma. I'm not in any way excusing the notion of a person who deliberately spreads HIV - although in all honesty, I think that's kind of like the myth of the welfare queen. Perhaps it happens, but not that often, which is why stories about it are sensational. They breed fear, and it hits middle-class straight white folks in all the right places - fear of gay people, fear of black people, fear of injection drug users, fear of poor people.

I don't know whether Aziga is telling the truth or not, but he brings up another good point. Forcing HIV disclosure exposes people to social ostracization. In a lot of communities - especially poor ones and communities of color, where HIV proliferates the most - disclosing that you are positive can lose you friends, the support of family, maybe even your job if they can get away with it. While I don't support people hiding their status from their sexual partners, I can understand why they would. I don't get behind forcing people to choose between becoming a "violent" sex offender and getting kicked out of their communities.

I simply do not agree with it being aggravated sexual assault. Possibly it could still be classified as a crime - I don't know how I feel about that, but not aggravated sexual assault.
moropus 10th-Aug-2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
I'm sure glad you aren't in charge. I'm actually glad it is "aggravated sexual assault."

If you'd like a special name for a crime called spreading death by HIV please do campaign for it. But don't try to pretend that deliberately spreading HIV is fine, because its not. If you have HIV and you feel you must have sex, you have a legal and moral obligation to ask your potential partner if they would like to risk their life because condoms are not fool proof and this man did not use them.

Aziga lived in Canada for several years while spreading death by HIV where ever he went. It is impossible to live in North America and not find out from public service messages what your responsibilities are in a sexual relationship. We all have TV, the internet, newspapers, etc.

Further he had orders from public health to do so, so he can not plead ignorance and neither can you. When orders such as those are given, education is also given. If Aziga would feel ostracized if he followed the orders given to him, then he had a legal obligation to give up sex to protect others from death. Its really that simple. I don't care about his delicate little feelings. I don't care if he gets laid. I care if innocent people suffer and die because he felt like getting his rocks off.

And yes, that's "aggravated sexual assault." Its murder, actually. Your lack of feeling for his many, many victims is amazing.
roseofjuly 11th-Aug-2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Be glad all you want, I don't really give a flying fuck.

Okay, pause for a second. There is a whole lot of stigma and misunderstanding about HIV evidenced in your comment that really fucks with me and is indicative of people's misunderstandings about HIV.

Number one. I have seen no proof that Aziga was DELIBERATELY spreading HIV. I am not Canadian; I have never heard of this case before today, and all I got was a little nebulous newspaper article. He says he didn't deliberately spread anything. The state says he did. I don't have enough information to make a judgment from that.

Second of all. HIV positive people are not "spreading death," and it is really fucked up that someone would say that at all. Not only is it really, really low but also medically inaccurate. AIDS is a deadly disease; I am not denying that. But with anti-retroviral treatment, one can live a relatively long life with HIV. It's not like in the 1980s where six months later you were dead (unless you don't have access to ART; in Canada, I am assuming it is covered by y'alls national health care).

Third of all. I am an HIV researcher who works in the US. It is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT impossible to live in North America and not know the facts about HIV and sexual education. NOT. AT ALL. I get participants come into my study office all the fucking time who don't have basic health information and don't have access to that information. It's called being poor and living in resource poor neighborhoods. We don't ALL have TV, Internet, and newspapers. It's called being poor and living in resource poor neighborhoods. What planet do you live on where everyone has equal access to television and Internet? *smh*

Fourth of all - innocent people? Do you think he deserves HIV more than they do? If he deliberately kept his HIV infection from his partners, that's a shitty thing to do. The thing is, though, in a consensual sexual relationship, BOTH partners have a responsibility to use protection and discuss STIs. Do I blame him if he truly did not disclose his status to his partners and deliberately infected them with HIV? OF COURSE. BUT. It is every person's responsibility to weigh the costs and benefits of unprotected sex with an unknown partner, including the people he had (presumably) consensual sex with.

Lastly, don't dare to speak to me about my lack of feeling for his victims. I work in HIV research and I plan to continue to do so for as long as someone will give me a job in this field. I actually see and know what HIV can do to people. THAT IS WHY I think that lumping having sex while positive in with armed rape and violent sexual assault is idiotic, dehumanizing and helps no one except in the rare cases where someone deliberately and maliciously spreads HIV. When I see folks who come into my office who are afraid to say that they are positive because they think people will treat them differently, I feel for them. The ones who are afraid that they will lose all their friends and the support of their family, I feel for them, too. And do I think that HIV+ people should be barred from having sex forever? FUCK that. They have a responsibility to be honest with their partners and to give their partner the opportunity to decide whether they want to put themselves at risk. But I do not support criminalizing HIV+ people simply because they are HIV+ and don't want to be celibate for the rest of their lives. This helps no one.
hohaiyee re: the hiv case11th-Aug-2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
I'm a woman, and if I were to have unprotected sex with a 17 year old kid who was vulnerably homeless, then I-

Oh wait, I wouldn't, because that would be a really fucking shitty thing to do.
rkt 9th-Aug-2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
i am interested to see how comments play out vs. the last post where someone who was hiv+ had sex without full disclosure.

Criminalize the disease, and you only add to the stigma and shame that keep people from disclosing their HIV status in the first place.
thank you!

criminalizing sex/ criminalizing an hiv+ status cannot end well.
thelovewitch 9th-Aug-2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I can't even imagine what this girl is going through right now in custody.
thelovewitch 9th-Aug-2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
This is disgusting :(
romp 9th-Aug-2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
I saw this for a few days in my news feed but didn't think to post it here. Good thinking.

I think posting this girl's photo is questionable, for sure. She's marginalized and no doubt most of the people she deals with are as well. Giving everyone in Canada (and beyond) her photo isn't helping much.

I can see trying to find her but I think that should involve street nurses and outreach workers, not the news.
sephystabbity 9th-Aug-2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
I just...why is the world so fucked up?

Fuck the police giving the information and fuck the media for broadcasting it.
zeitgeistic 10th-Aug-2011 12:30 am (UTC)
Sounds like those men need to be charged with statutory rape, since she's still a minor, and they are, presumably, above the age where it would be legal for them to have sex with someone between 16 and 17.
cassandraleo 10th-Aug-2011 01:31 am (UTC)
It's Canada. The age of consent is 16.
zeitgeistic 10th-Aug-2011 01:34 am (UTC)
Is there no clause along the lines of,

The age of consent is 16, but only for sexual partners who are also minors, or are at least no older than 22ish?

When I was still in high school at least (early 2000s), this was true in my state. The age of consent was 16, but that did not mean 30 year old people could have sex with 16 year olds; I believe the cut-off for sex with someone 16 or 17 was 25. I don't know if this is still the case.
cassandraleo 10th-Aug-2011 01:43 am (UTC)

Although Canada is a federation, the criminal law (including the definition of the age of consent) is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, so the age of consent is uniform throughout Canada. Section 151 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a crime to touch, for a sexual purpose, any person under the age of 16 years. Section 153 then goes on to prohibit the sexual touching of a person under 18 by a person in three circumstances: if he or she is in a "position of trust or authority" towards the youth, if the youth is in a "relationship of dependency" with him or her, or if the relationship is "exploitative". The term "position of trust or authority" is not defined in the Code but the courts have ruled that parents, teachers, and medical professionals hold a position of trust or authority towards youth they care for or teach. For determining whether or not a relationship is "exploitative", s. 153 (1.2) of the Code provides that a judge can consider how old the youth is, the difference in ages between the partners, how the relationship evolved, and the degree of control or influence that the older partner has over the youth.

The "position of trust under 18" anti-exploitation rules were expanded in 2005 by Bill C-2 where a judge may choose to term a situation to be sexual exploitation based on the age of the younger party, age difference, evolution of the relationship (how it developed, e.g.: quickly and secretly over the Internet), the control or influence over the young person (degree of control or influence the other person had over the young person). This passed before the 2008 amendments, and they were not repealed so they are still in effect and can apply towards adults in these situations with young persons over the age of consent and under 18 (16-17).
Where an accused is charged with an offence under s. 151 (Sexual Interference), s. 152 (Invitation to sexual touching), s. 153(1) (Sexual exploitation), s. 160(3) (Bestiality in presence of or by child), or s. 173(2) (Indecent acts), or is charged with an offence under s. 271 (Sexual assault), s. 272 (Sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party, or causing bodily harm), or s. 273 (Aggravated sexual assault) in respect of a complainant under the age of fourteen years, it is not a defense that the complainant consented to the activity that forms the subject-matter of the charge.

In short, if she wasn't dependent upon them, they weren't figures of authority, and their relationship wasn't exploitative, it probably isn't against the law.
zeitgeistic 10th-Aug-2011 01:57 am (UTC)
I stand corrected then. Thank you for taking the time to look it up!
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