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Don't bother locking up your daughters, just lock up black men with HIV

| 12 Comments

Johnson Aziga, 55, an African migrant living with HIV, is a now officially a "dangerous offender" according to Canadian criminal law.

Mr Aziga is already considered a "murderer" two times over. He was convicted in 2009 of two counts of first-degree murder, ten counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault, because he had unprotected sex with eleven women without telling them he had HIV. Seven of the women subsequently tested HIV-positive, and two died of AIDS-related cancers within a couple of years of having had sex with Mr Aziga.

[A number of articles and blog posts on Mr Aziga's trial - and the media's reaction to it - can be found on my blog.]

Being a "dangerous offender" means he will likely remain in prison for the rest of his life - even in the unlikely event that his life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years for the murder convictions is overturned on appeal. [The whole "dangerous offender" process is considered by some legal experts to be discriminatory and "dangerous" because "putting the onus on criminals makes it too easy for the court system to declare people dangerous offenders.]

Johnson Aziga would have been at least 78 years old if he had been able to be considered for release after 25 years. And yet, somehow, the Canadian legal system considers that at this age, Mr Aziga's libido would be so voracious, his appeal so alluring to Canada's heterosexual female population, that he must be locked up for life.

Mr. Aziga's sex drive "is head and shoulders above" the average man's and "knowing his need for sex is not going to be satisfied" could deter him from disclosing his HIV status to potential partners, [Crown attorney Karen Shea argued]. "He didn't abstain from sex knowing what he knew (about having HIV), he didn't discuss his HIV status knowing what he knew and he didn't wear a condom knowing what he knew," she told the court.

I am the only person that sees this as absurd - as both racist and HIV-phobic?

The legal characterization of men of African origin with HIV as 'monstrously' hypersexual is not new. Back in 1993, Canada tried to convict Charles Ssenyonga of similar 'crimes' (His 'victims', like Aziga's, were all white women; his virus, like Aziga's, a "rare African strain".) Ssenyonga died before the trial concluded. The prosecution (and media's) focus on his hypersexual Africanness was explored in a fabulous 2005 article by James Miller, 'African Immigrant Damnation Syndrome: The Case of Charles Ssenyonga' published as part of a special issue of the social science journal, Sexuality Research & Social Policy called 'Reckless Vectors: The Infecting "Other" in HIV/AIDS Law.'

In the introduction by the journal's editors Heather Worth, Cindy Patton, and Diane Goldstein, they highlight the issue of racism in HIV criminal cases.

...the fact that the accused is African is used to indicate a priori an excessive and lethal sexuality and to position Africa itself as a deviant and viral continent and as the source and cause of AIDS. This prejudice extends to successive generations of African immigrants, as can be seen in the case of Nushawn Williams, an African American man from upstate New York. The same focus on Williams' Black, eroticized body is evident in the numerous media accounts of the case.

Interestingly, Nushawn Williams is currently going through exactly the same process as Mr Aziga, having already served the maximum sentence of 12 years for the 'crimes' he pleaded guilty to back in 1998. Back in May 2010, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that Mr Williams "poses a danger to society and as a result, must remain behind bars even though his sentence is complete." He is now awaiting the outcome of his civil confinement hearing that has been delayed for almost a year.

Mr Aziga and Mr Williams are being punished twice over. The idea that society is protected from HIV by keeping them in prison indefinitely is erroneous and outrageous. In the past men used to "lock up their daughters" when a man of purported huge sexual prowess came sniffing around, as if their female offspring did not have a sexuality or a choice in whether or not to have sex with their suitor.

Now, society locks up "HIV monsters" because it thinks female members of society need protecting from them, as if they did not have a sexuality or a choice in whether or not to have sex with their suitor.

But the real problem is that focusing on Black or African HIV (in the guise of Aziga or Williams) creates a false sense of security because all sex comes with risks of HIV infection (and these risks are usually much higher from someone with HIV who is undiagnosed, and therefore unable to disclose).

Wouldn't it be better - and more cost-effective - to spend some money on HIV prevention education for the general public, so that white heterosexual women, and others who think that they are not at risk for HIV because they haven't been targeted with HIV prevention information (usually aimed at 'key populations' like gay men and Black or African communities) can learn how to protect themselves from HIV rather than foolishly relying on the criminal law to protect them after the fact?

12 Comments

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Comments on Edwin Bernard's blog entry "Don't bother locking up your daughters, just lock up black men with HIV"

Very good write as usual Edwin J Bernard, but as you know my view about some of the issues you raised. In as much as the legal system can be judged misleading, tying peoples' irresponsibilities to their race is really not fair to people of colour. if someone has done something bad, that person should be punished accordingly. The issue of intentional transmission is common, and yes very common among the african society, I have seen men refusing and even disputing their HIV status in other to have sex with other person. If they infect someone they should be so punished. This is different form criminalisation that is based on uknown infection or status, this guy did it to not just one person and I think it is very unfair

You're bringing out the race card and it doesn't belong here.

HIV is a deadly, terrifying disease. It's not akin to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or anything else of that nature. Having HIV is a very big deal still. The manta has been now for the past 5-10 years that AIDS is practically over, but it isn't. AIDS is still a fatal disease.

Being HIV+ can bar you from being able to get married, adopt children, enter into certain countries, get health insurance, or get life insurance amongst many things.

Do I think that everyone who doesn't disclose needs to go to jail for the rest of their life or get the death penalty? No, I don't. But this man willfully and with full knowledge of the consequences decided to not disclose his status. He did it multiple times, not just once.

I find that most people who are so vehemently against criminalisation are those who wish they could have sex without disclosing. I don't have to worry about HIV criminalisation laws because I do not have sex with people without telling them. So I have no sympathy for your cause.

I'd be really interested to know how you feel the whole treatment as prevention issue might impact on the above issues. Putting aside the whole human rights aspect of that for a moment, surely if offered treatment and support around adherence the whole 'dangerous offender'argument would be removed? i understand this doesn't address the moral arguments in this piece in terms of racism, prejudice against people living with HIV and prevention but the broader question is can treatment as prevention have an impact in conviction and sentencing and indeed the whole criminalisation debate?

Excellent post, Edwin.

How could two of the women he had sex with have died of AIDS-related cancers two years after having sex with him? This makes no sense.

Your assertion that Mr. Aziga is being locked up because he is black is both absurd and inflammatory. He is being locked up because he failed to disclose his HIV status and he failed to use a condom. I've been poz for 20 years and I would NEVER have sex with anyone without first disclosing my status. While I believe the victims in this case share some of the responsibility, I believe the primary blame goes to Mr. Aziga and he should be locked up until he can understand how wrong he is to be behaving in that manner.

To all the criminalizers out there, why arent you insisting that the "victims" of these "monsters" be charged with reckless endangerment of their own bodies? We used to criminalize attempted suicide as a form of attempted murder. Why not charge the woman too? I don't buy your "black" issue here, Edwin. There are white guys out there charged and treated the same way. The whole thing needs to stop, or at least the volume on the hysteria needs to be toned down. Despite what your more out of touch screamers say here, HIV is a manageable, chronic illness which with proper treatment need not shorten a life span or unduly affect quality of life. Those who say otherwise are living in the past. But their own rage at being infected, being stigmatized and being shunned sexually by their gay brothers makes them jump on the moralistic bandwagon with the outraged Crown counsel in this case, who so clearly suffers from "put-upon female syndrome". ("I hate you, Daddy!"). Oh yes, and don't we all just want to punish those to whom we feel morally superior? Mr. Aziga is suffering from terminal douchebag-itis as well as HIV. But he never formed an intention to kill these women. He should have been charged with assault causing bodily harm. And the women should have been charged with reckless endangerment of the Canadian public health system. If the women were made more legally accountable for their own bad choices, then we wouldn't be having this discussion. No men would be getting into those hoo-hoos without a hat on if those girls faced jail time. He didn't force them to have sex. If women expect to be treated like adults, then they need to take responsibility for their actions, like adults.

Mark,

you must have a different disease than I do. I have had an undetectable viral load and never had a CD4 cell count less than 700, even before treatment. I have developed osteoporosis, lipodystrophy, HIV nephropathy, HIV neuropathy, and HIV thrombocytopenia. All despite treatment.... or maybe because of it.

HIV is still a very big deal, it is you who is living in another world. A world where being HIV+ doesn't mean anything because all you have to do is pop a pill and get a blood test every 6 months.

People with HIV, despite treatment, have higher incidences of certain cancers, heart disease, memory loss, and other age related diseases.... EVEN WITH TREATMENT.

The odds of not one but two people dying of AIDS-related cancers two years after getting HIV are so low as to be almost impossible. For me, reading something that hard to believe calls into question the rest of the piece.

While there may have been some focus on his race, it does not excuse the fact that he did engage in high risk sex and the fact that 7 of them became HIV POZ is definite testament to that and two of them died. This is criminal. Being POZ for well over 20 years... none of my partners have tested poz... I have never barebacked anyone since I knew... I have generally always disclosed my status before sex with anyone... and what few times it got carried away before I had disclosed I kept the sex very safe.... And being non detectable adds to that additional safety... It is a shame that people will infect others... He needed to be in counseling and also these women are at fault for not protecting themselves... It is an ongoing problem that still must faced. Why were these women putting themselves at such risk? And were they educated to some level and knew that they were at risk.. Did they even ask him if he was POZ and did he lie?

As a long-term 22 year old heterosexual survivor. I have NO empathy whatsoever for Aziga and I don't buy this race argument either. Utter nonsense; Aziga is being imprisoned for his absolute disregard for the women he has destroyed. Indeed his partners should have demanded condoms, but as carriers we are obligated by and held to a higher moral standard to protect our partners from this horrid disease.

This IS still a fatal disease, but even taking away that element, and you can't, it is still a terrible life on expensive medications, the stigma, I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy - and yet some of you go out of your way to minimize it - whose side are you on anyway???

Mark, I will agree with you about the women being charged with reckless endangerment as long as gays who were bashed are also charged with reckless endangerment for being gay. I hope you will agree with me that in addition they also must reimburse the health system for their injuries. I think your real issue is the Supreme Court that gave us gay marriage has upheld the propriety of this law, its application and the sentences handed down. When people are killed or injured by the actions of another there must be an accounting.

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This page contains a single entry by Edwin Bernard published on August 3, 2011 3:44 PM.

The return of the "HIV Monster" was the previous entry in this blog.

Tell your story - how are you impacted by HIV criminalization? is the next entry in this blog.

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