Finland: Kenyan-born former ‘erotic dancer’ sentenced to 4 1/2 years for HIV exposure

Update: 15 December 2011
The Court of Appeal decided that she was not guilty of attempted aggravated assault but only endangerment with a resulting lower sentence – the maximum two years imprisonment. 

According to my sources in Finland who have seen the 2-page decision, the main points are that:
– She was on medication and took care of herself; since she was likely uninfectious, aggravated assault could not be attempted.
– Having unprotected sex was a mutual decision.
– Impossible to know when complainant with HIV’s infection took place.

Original post:  22 December 2010
A 28 year-old Kenyan-born woman – who apparently worked as an “erotic dancer” to support herself after her marriage to her Finnish ex-husband ended – has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison by a Tampere court for not disclosing that she was HIV-positive before having unprotected sex with 16 men during the five year period, 2005-2010.

However, she was only diagnosed in April 2006, and although at least one complainant was HIV-positive, the court was unable to prove the provenance of his infection. She was found guilty of 15 counts of attempted aggravated assault and one count of endangerment. (Update: a colleague in Finland tells me that the endangerment charge came from having unprotected sex after having an HIV test but before she knew the result.)

Details are sketchy, since the case was tried behind closed doors and all documents relating to the case have been sealed for 40 years.
The only English-language report comes from YLE News

The Pirkanmaa District Court in Tampere on Monday handed down a four-year, six-month prison sentence to a 28 year-old woman for endangerment and attempted aggravated assault, after having unprotected sex with several partners, even though she knew she was HIV positive. Altogether, there were 16 plaintiffs in the case.

The woman has also been ordered by the court to pay almost 20,000 euros in damages and 24,000 euros in court costs.

Described as an “erotic dancer” the woman engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with numerous partners, even though she was diagnosed in April 2006 with HIV and was aware of the means and seriousness of transmission of the infection.

The defendant underwent a psychological examination, on the basis of which she was judged to have been mentally competent at the time of the acts. The woman worked as an erotic dancer in several cities, including Tampere, Lahti and Jyväskylä.

All the documents related to the case were ordered sealed for a period of 40 years.

This is the first reported case of an HIV-related prosecution in Finland since 2008, when a young Finnish man was found guilty of five counts of criminal HIV transmission and 14 counts of HIV exposure, originally sentenced to ten years in prison, and then given a further two years following an appeal.  It is the 13th such case since prosecutions began in 1989. (Update: My Finnish colleague tells me there was another case earlier this year making the total 14.)

According to an earlier report by YLE News, the woman was arrested prior to February 2010.  Before the police went public that month, seven men (of whom one claimed to have tested HIV-positive) came forward to claim they’d had unprotected sex with the woman without being informed by her that she was HIV-positive. The woman apparently consented to having her picture released,

in hopes that her other possible sex partners might have themselves tested for HIV. 

The case was widely reported amongst Finnish-lanaguage media (see examples here and here via Google translate). Many of the stories’ headlines refer to ‘HIV-Rachel’.  Apparently the woman sometimes used the name Rachel as a pseudonym, but the headlines have a more stigmatising meaning, and refer to the Biblical Rachel, who was associated with deception (although it was her father, sister and husband, who actually deceived, and not Rachel).

Her defence lawyer is quoted in one of these articles, saying that this was a “grossly harsh sentence”.

Indeed it is.  However, her prosection fits within the narrative of many of its northern European neighbours who appear to have a tendency to
a. prosecute foreign-born migrants from high prevalence countries who have moved to small towns or cities
b. prosecute ‘sex workers’ (Update: My Finnish colleague tells me that she was not a sex worker per se, but actually “an erotic dancer who paid taxes.”)

In both cases the legal responsibility for HIV prevention appears to rest solely on the HIV-positive person, even though men have the power to use condoms and should be aware of the risks, especially when having sex with ‘erotic dancers’.