Paying For Reckless Sex

When news broke that a 26-year-old, HIV-positive medical student from Atlanta had been charged with reckless conduct for knowingly putting sexual partners at risk, the arrest exposed a contradiction in the way the state regulates what goes on in the bedroom.

One state law, regarding the privacy of medical records, aims to protect the anonymity of HIV-positive men and women. But Georgia criminal law requires HIV carriers to disclose their condition to sexual partners, regardless of whether they use a condom. (States such as North Carolina offer a more discreet way of breaking the bad news, through a phone system that leaves the anonymous message: "Somebody that cared enough about you to give us your name wants you to know that you may have been exposed to HIV. Please go get tested.")

Critics say that making the spread of HIV a crime may lead people to avoid getting tested. That way, a virus carrier can plead ignorance if faced with the accusation.

The issue also has raised questions about the level of responsibility that should fall on allegedly reckless HIV carriers such as Garry Carriker II. The Emory student was first arrested in November 2004 and released on bail. According to an Atlanta Police Department incident report, a subsequent sexual partner whom Carriker met in late December reported him to authorities March 27 "because he is afraid that Mr. Carriker has a pattern of not disclosing his HIV status prior to having consensual sex."

In February, sex columnist Dan Savage raised a unique - and some say outlandish - way to hold HIV carriers accountable for spreading the virus. Savage's logic would have people paying part of the medical costs for partners they knowingly infect. He suggested in his syndicated column, Savage Love, that requiring drug-support payments akin to child-support payments "would have a real impact on a lot of the seemingly nutso gay men out there who are making absolutely nutso immoral sexual choices."

But Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal, a group dedicated to homosexual rights, asks: "Is this really the solution to the problem, or is it a way to make a statement and punish a group of people?" Nevins tells CL that, like mandatory partner notification, drug-support would discourage people from getting tested.

One of Carriker's alleged victims contacted by CL wondered how many people with HIV have the financial ability to pay even their own medical expenses. He says failure to disclose one's HIV status instead ought to be classified as a sex crime, meaning perpetrators' names and photos would be posted on the Web.

Other options include mandatory testing and notification. Savage writes that he supports those ideas. But "as radical notions go," he opined, "partner notification is about as radical as suggesting surgeons wash their hands before they operate."??

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