I've been following the murder case of Johnson Aziga very closely. He's the guy charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The weapon? HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
How accountable, I wondered, should people with AIDS be, regarding their sexual practices? It seemed like a no-brainer to me that a person who has sex irresponsibly should face some consequences. So I listened with fascination to AIDS activist Alison Symington, as she was interviewed on CBC's The Current last week. Symington, Senior Policy Analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, complained that the criminal code was a blunt instrument and shouldn't be used in this way on an already stigmatized population.
The whole thing made me more than a little uneasy, especially when you take into account the fact that few charges have been laid within the queer community, almost all have come in the context of heterosexual relationships and the vast majority of those have been laid against men who have infected women. I've always seen the AIDS crisis in Africa as an example of violence against women of monumental proportions and tend to see the Canadian case as one that merits a gender analysis.
When I looked into Symington's resume, I noticed that she served as a consultant for Amnesty's Stop Violence Against Women campaign and so I picked up the phone to talk to her. She was hugely open to the conversation.
Symington made a point of saying that these kinds of laws really don't do anything to decrease the incidence of sexual assault or the trasnmission of AIDS. Otherwise she might consider supporting this kind of legal approach.
She confirmed that these kinds of legal conflicts were more prevalent among straight people than gays. "Part of that," she says, "is that gay men have a different attitude towards their sexuality. They took on education and changed their practices. The attitude is that all gay men have AIDS and they act accordingly. That didn't happen in the heterosexual community."
She also warned that the 10 year-old law came into effect before many of the new treatments and don't take into account the fact that having HIV isn't automatically a death sentence the way it once may have been. At the end of our conversation, we both agreed that charging everyone who passed on a sexually transmitted disease would clog up the courts in inappropriate ways.
But Symington did say that a more detailed analysis of who's laying charges (versus who's transmitting the disease) would be useful. And she certainly didn't dismiss the idea that the AIDs transmission, how it occurs and in what communities needs to be looked at with a view to gender.
So I'll keep seeing it that way. If Aziga really did have sex with women without worrying about their well-being, that means he treated his sexual partners as totally disposable. Sounds familiar. Sounds like sexism to me.