Decision to charge man with spitting 'HIV-infected saliva' under fire

By Jimmy Ellingham

A Wellington man faces trial next month on a slew of charges arising from an incident in August in Porirua, including assaulting police and damaging police property. Photo / File
A Wellington man faces trial next month on a slew of charges arising from an incident in August in Porirua, including assaulting police and damaging police property. Photo / File

The decision to charge a man with spitting "HIV-infected saliva" at police officers has come under fire, as a leading advocacy group says it stigmatises people with the illness and "perpetuates ignorance".

A Wellington man faces trial next month on a slew of charges arising from an incident in August in Porirua, including assaulting police and damaging police property.

But three charges in particular have come under the microscope as police allege the 34-year-old Wellingtonian "committed a criminal nuisance by doing an unlawful act, namely spitting HIV-infected saliva, knowing that such [an] act would endanger the health of [the officers]".

Police are defending laying the charges but New Zealand Aids Foundation executive director Shaun Robinson said HIV could not be spread through saliva.

"It is surprising that such a phrase could be used as there is absolutely no danger to anyone from contact with the saliva of a person living with HIV," Mr Robinson said.

"A person living with HIV could kiss someone and there would be no risk of transmission. If the man spat at police that is objectionable, but HIV has nothing to do with it.

"Saying something like this is completely stigmatising to people with HIV and perpetuates ignorance."

Mr Robinson said such comments were unhelpful to work stopping the spread of the illness, as such stigmatism discouraged people from wanting to be tested.

He said the foundation worked with a range of professionals and organisations to educate them about HIV.

"We will certainly be following up with the police around this situation."

A police spokesman told NZME he was unable to comment on the specifics of the case while it was before the courts.

"And if there is any evidence presented relating to whether or not the saliva may or may not have contained infected blood, it will ultimately be for the court to make a determination on," he said.

"However, in such situations, police officers are often not in a position to determine whether or not saliva or other bodily fluids they come into contact with may or may not contain infected blood or other substances that could be harmful.

"Protection from infection from other people, including HIV, is part of training for all police officers, and police work hard to ensure our staff are aware of the risks to keep themselves and others safe," the spokesman said.

The man, who could not be contacted today, is defending the charges. He will go on trial in the Wellington District Court before a judge, without a jury.

At a previous hearing, a police prosecutor said his "research suggests" the criminal nuisance charges might be dropped.

- NZ Herald

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