Bioethics Blogs

Criminal Sexual Conduct and the Politics of HIV Disclosure

Michael Orsini and Jennifer Kilty discuss the criminalization of failure to disclose HIV status.

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Calculating and ruthless.” That is how a judge described an HIV-positive man who, on March 9, was found guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault for failing to disclose his HIV status to sexual partners. For this, the man was sentenced to 14 years in prison – a harsh sentence consistent with Canada’s dubious record as one of the most aggressive countries in prosecuting people for failing to disclose their HIV status.

In an age of anxiety about sexual risk-taking and HIV, the courts appear to be in the business of channeling a range of emotions, notably anger, disgust, and fear. Scholars refer to this process as “the emotionalization of law.”

Judge Bonnie Warkentin’s decision casts the defendant as a veritable “AIDS monster” intent on terrorizing innocent victims with a noxious substance (his semen). His victims are portrayed as being forced to live in an “environment where many countries still stigmatize and discriminate against those living with HIV.” While Judge Warkentin laments that the victim “will live in the shadow of this infection in all aspects of life,” no such sympathy is extended to the defendant. Meanwhile, he faces considerable stigma as the very public face of criminal sexual conduct.

Model of HIV virus – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Photo Credit: Tim Evanson, 2012)

In handing down her decision, Judge Warkentin also ordered that the defendant, Steven Boone, be supervised for five years following his release.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.