My heart goes out to the victims of Glenn Mills, the Aucklander facing charges of 'wounding or attempted wounding with reckless disregard, infecting with a disease and attempting to infect with a disease'. Diagnosed with HIV in 2007, Mills continued to practice unprotected sex with a number of people who did not know he carried the infection.
What Mills has done is clearly repugnant. But it's times like these that I wish I'd studied the law, so I could better understand what exactly Mills has been charged with, and why - particularly the charge of 'attempting to infect with a disease'. This charge suggests that Mills actively intended to harm at least one of the people he slept with, and it seems like this would be difficult to prove (as opposed to negligence in failing to alert his partners that he had HIV).
It seems there are a lot of scenarios around sex that could lead to harm, through malice or negligence. For example:
- a person might deliberately set out to pass on their HIV infection (God only knows why)
- a person might know they have HIV, but be negligent about telling their partner, for a number of reasons ranging from fear of rejection to simply not caring about their partner's welfare
- a person with HIV might be under the influence of alcohol or something else, and make a bad decision to have unprotected sex
- a person might have good reason to believe they've been exposed to HIV, but choose not to be tested - so if they passed the virus on, they couldn't be accused of doing so knowingly
In all these scenarios, the person who transmitted HIV to a partner would be morally culpable - but should the law distinguish between different 'levels' of culpability? And if so, how could that practically be done? The difficulty of proving the intention of someone in Mills' situation, and therefore of prosecuting him successfully, might make it tempting to pose blunt 'solutions' - for example, that HIV positive people simply shouldn't be allowed to have sex.
It's hard not to share the outrage of the gay community, at this man whose actions have done such incomprehensible damage to the people he's infected. In the linked article, Bruce Kilmister of Body Positive (an HIV support organisation) says, "But it's also a timely reminder that everybody has a responsibility to keep themselves safe and follow safe sex practice". Safe sex is crucial, of course, but it's also crucial that the Mills case doesn't become an exercise in victim-blaming, with homophobic overtones. An it's also important that Mills' behaviour doesn't prompt a backlash against HIV positive people, who have the same needs for affection, companionship and intimacy as the rest of us.