The person most responsible for your health and safety is you.
By Kelly A. McCann
A s our nation celebrates Independence Day, it conjures up images of hot dogs, fireworks, and Uncle Sam. Thoughts of the 4th of July also call to mind loftier issues like the civil liberties we Americans enjoy—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair and speedy trial, and the right to privacy, among others.
Along with those rights and privileges are accompanying responsibilities. Each of us is accountable for our behavior as we exercise our free will. We are duty-bound to conduct ourselves in a careful and reliable manner to ensure our continued autonomy and protections. These standards hold true whether we are exercising voting privileges or our sexual freedom.
Ah yes, it always comes back around to sex, doesn’t it?
In the old days, sexual responsibility revolved around prevention of unwanted pregnancy, and if that didn’t work, financial support of the child. Today, in the age of AIDS, sexual responsibility also involves negotiation of condom use as well as open and honest communication about sexually transmitted infections.
There are differing opinions about when (or if) someone with HIV should disclose to a sexual partner. Some believe that as long as safer sex techniques (like condoms) are employed, there is no need to share one’s positive status with a sex partner. Others maintain it is essential to inform a partner of one’s HIV infection before engaging in any type of sexual activity.
While I believe the ethical and moral choice is to be completely forthcoming about one’s status with sexual partners, it is a personal decision that each of us must make for ourselves. However, we must acknowledge that the consequences of our sexual behavior and our communication (or lack thereof) can be serious.
For example, a number of states have passed laws making it a crime for an HIV-positive person to expose another to HIV through unprotected sexual activity. California’s “Willful Exposure” law makes such behavior a felony punishable by up to eight years in prison. The law is narrowly written, however, so that it applies to persons who intend to infect others with HIV.
The California law is applied equally to men and women, and tops and bottoms. In order to be prosecuted under this law, certain conditions would apply:
1. The HIV-positive person would have to know his status. You can’t be charged under this law for unknowingly exposing someone to HIV.
2. The HIV-positive person must engage in anal or vaginal sex. (Apparently one can’t be prosecuted for unprotected oral sex.)
3. The HIV-positive person must fail to disclose his status prior to penetration.
4. The HIV-positive person must fail to use a condom. (Using a condom means one can’t be prosecuted even if he fails to disclose his status to his partner.)
5. The HIV-positive person must have “specific intent” to infect the other person. (Simply knowing one’s status is not enough to prove intent to infect another.)
While Texas does not have a specific law on the books that would allow for the prosecution of someone with HIV who knowingly exposed a sex partner to the virus, HIV-positive Texans can be charged with other crimes such as attempted murder, attempted manslaughter, or assault with a deadly weapon. Consider a recent Texas court case:
In May 2009, a Collin County jury sentenced Philippe Padieu to 45 years in prison after they found him guilty on six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to court records, prosecutors told jurors that Padieu had known about his HIV infection since 2005, but he continued to engage in “unprotected high-risk sexual intercourse with multiple women.”
This case was particularly significant because it involved the use of genetic analysis and DNA sequencing that determined the HIV strain present in blood samples of all six victims could most likely be traced back to one individual: Padieu.
Defense attorneys argued that Padieu did not intend to infect his partners. Rather, they claimed he was in denial about his own infection, and he had no obligation to inform his partners of his HIV status because the sex was consensual.
While we all expect (and want to believe) we can trust our sexual partners, this case serves to illustrate the importance of personal responsibility. Each of us must commit to protecting our health. Take that first step and insist upon condom use every time you have sex.
Your mama can’t watch over you all the time (and given some of our sexual behaviors, it’s probably better that way). And the cops can’t prevent you from becoming infected with HIV. That is something only you can do for yourself.
Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston. For information on HIV testing or disclosing one’s status, contact AFH’s Prevention Services Department at 713/333-5624.