Magazine Issues 2016 FS152 Why disclosing my HIV status is the right thing to do HIV+ME with Ruaidhri O’Baoill | @RuaidhriOB When I found out I was HIV-positive I rang one of my closest friends to tell him the news. As well as telling him about me, I also had to tell him to go and get himself on PEP. Two days prior to this my close friend and I hooked up. We were pretty drunk so it was unexpected. We hadn’t used protection so I freaked out that I could have passed it on to him. Although we eventually found out that transmission hadn’t happened I felt horrible. The whole time when I should have been looking after myself I was worried about him.Although I hadn’t known my status at the time, the idea of passing it on to someone else, let alone a close friend, was and is something I am not sure I can cope with. I told myself that from then on, before sex came into the equation with a guy, I would tell them about my status. It was my way of allowing them to make an informed decision. It was my way of doing the right thing. Recently a story in the news caught my attention and has left me feeling pretty unsettled. A gay man was arrested in Sydney for allegedly passing on HIV to an ex-partner, who claims he was not informed of the man’s status when they met. The accusation is incredibly serious and could potentially lead to a prision sentence for grievous bodily harm. What concerns me is how can they prove that transmission happened between two parties? How can one person prove that they weren’t informed beforehand? It basically boils down to their word against yours, which is a very scary position to be in when you could be faced with prison. Being honest, this scenario has played on my mind continuously for the past 18 months. I know that I tell every guy before sex and even though I use protection and am undetectable there is always a part of me that thinks that it could happen. In the months that followed my diagnosis, I went through some very dark places in my mind, and my life as I knew it went downhill rapidly. I have only just got my life back to normal, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be in a situation where I put someone else through that. At the same time, what about the other person? What is their part to play in this situation? Speaking from experience I feel like the conversation about status doesn’t happen as much as it should. I feel at times more persecuted as I am the one with HIV, which means that it’s my responsibility to look after the other guy. Well, if that doesn’t make me feel like a walking disease then I don’t know what does. There has to be an element of responsibility from the other guy, especially if they are HIV-negative. You have a responsibility to look after your health just as much as I do mine. They say it takes two to tango and I truly believe that! There is still such a huge sense of stigma surrounding HIV, I feel that some guys get offended if asked whether or not they are positive, and those who do have HIV feel that they can’t say it for fear of rejection. This is where we can run into trouble with disclosure as people just don’t want to face it. However there is no shame in being honest. Being open and honest with each other builds trust and amazing sex relies on trust. Ruaidhri is 26-years-old and originally from Ireland. He’s been living in London for over five years. Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day. HIV and the law Are there laws against passing on HIV? A number of people in the UK have been prosecuted and jailed for transmitting HIV to their sexual partners. All of the prosecutions in England and Wales to date have been brought under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act. This act came into law in 1861 and so was not designed to deal with cases of HIV transmission. Because of this, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published legal guidance. The guidelines were written to show what makes a prosecution for transmitting HIV more or less likely. It’s worth noting that this guidance applies to England and Wales only, although the Offences Against the Person Act still applies in Northern Ireland. Different laws apply in Scotland. The CPS guidance is still quite vague so the information here is intended as guidance only. Can I be prosecuted for reckless transmission of HIV? If a man with HIV says that he is HIV-positive before sex – so that the risks are understood and both partners consent to the sex, or if condoms are used correctly when you fuck, or are being fucked – there should be no grounds for criminal prosecution. What is intentional transmission of HIV? Intentional transmission is where someone deliberately sets out to infect someone else. This is a much more serious offence than reckless transmission; however, it would be much more difficult to prove that someone was deliberately transmitting the virus sexually. No cases of intentional transmission of HIV have been successfully prosecuted to date. With reckless transmission, someone can consent to the risk of infection with HIV. Agreement to have sex with a risk of transmission means that prosecution should not take place. However you cannot consent to intentional transmission and so consent would not be a defence. It is also possible for the CPS to bring a charge of attempted intentional transmission, even if infection does not take place. What is the impact of criminalisation? Studies of countries that do or do not criminalise transmission of HIV have not demonstrated that criminalisation is effective in reducing levels of HIV transmission. At this point it is impossible to know what the long-term effects of criminalisation in the UK will be. However, so long as there remains a considerable level of stigma attached to being HIV-positive, it is unlikely that every positive man will disclose his HIV status before sex. Despite the protection of the criminal law, most people still choose to lock their car or their home to prevent burglary. Similarly, we would suggest that the best way that HIV-negative men can avoid becoming infected with HIV is to take responsibility for their own health and safety when having sex. Support For details about counselling services that may be available and suitable for your needs, call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. GMFA has a section of its website dedicated to gay men living with HIV. Visit www.gmfa.org.uk/living-with-hiv.