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Introduction:

Anthony Whitfield was convicted in 2004 in Olympia, Washington on 17 counts of first-degree assault for ‘knowingly’ exposing multiple (17) sexual partners to HIV.  He was diagnosed with the disease in 1992 after being sexually assaulted in an Oklahoma prison.

HIV: “CRIMINAL TRANSMISSION” by Mark D. Fefer @ The Seattle Weekly

His crime: Having unprotected sex with 17 different women while knowing he was HIV-positive.  Whitfield, an unemployed methamphetamine addict, spent the last several years bouncing around among girlfriends, marrying one, having children with two others, maintaining multiple "long-term" relationships, and having a slew of shorter ones.  Though he was informed he was HIV-positive in 1992, he never told his partners, in some instances he outright lied about his condition, and often refused to wear condoms.  Five of the women have since tested positive for HIV, and one has AIDS.  After a two-week trial before a Thurston County judge last month, Whitfield was found guilty on all assault counts.

The case received some crime-of-the-day coverage on local TV news, but was mostly ignored in Seattle and elsewhere.  That's surprising, since, based on Seattle Weekly research, no one in America has been charged, let alone convicted, of exposing so many people to the virus.  And yet the Whitfield story may be worthy of attention less for the ways it's extreme than for the ways that it's typical.  The case raises a number of questions about how HIV "crimes" are being prosecuted generally in the U.S. and how criminal enforcement can or should be used to help contain the AIDS epidemic.

It was May of last year when health officials in Thurston County first got wind of Anthony Whitfield, after a cluster of women tested positive for HIV and mentioned him as a recent sex partner.  Whitfield was tested again around that time, too, and on Aug. 1, a Thurston County health officer notified him of his infection and "counseled him" on the necessity of using protection, according to court records.  One of Whitfield's girlfriends claims he had unprotected sex with her that very night: "I know because he always came over and had sex with me on the first [of the month]," she said. (As victims of a sex crime, the women in the case have not been publicly named; they were identified in court papers by initials only.)

Whitfield was supposed to remain in contact with the local health authorities and report his sex partners, but instead he disappeared, apparently to his native state of Oklahoma.  In the meantime, health department officials learned of two more women who had contracted AIDS, both of whom listed Whitfield as a possible source of their infection. One of them claimed Whitfield was her first and only sex partner.  (The second did not end up testifying in the case.)

By March of this year, health officials had located Whitfield again in the Olympia area and took the next enforcement step, issuing a cease-and-desist order that required him to inform sex partners of his condition and to use protection.  Whitfield signed the order and, at the same time, offered the names of two more women he was sleeping with. Both women were located and tested; one said she'd had unprotected sex with Whitfield on March 14—two days after he'd signed the order.  At that point, the case was shifted to law enforcement.  In late March, police went to Whitfield's home in Lacey, where he was loading his belongings into a U-Haul truck, and arrested him.

Health departments are not permitted to disclose the names of people who've been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. When the health officer approached Whitfield's girlfriends, she could not use his name; she could only say she had reason to believe they might have been exposed to the virus and suggest that the women get tested.  Nor was there any way to find out Whitfield's other partners, except by asking him.  Once Whitfield was in custody and criminally charged, however, those rules no longer applied.  The Thurston County prosecutor issued a news release asking women who'd slept with Whitfield to come forward for confidential testing; health officials received close to 40 calls from "primary contacts" of the defendant.  Ultimately, prosecutors found 17 victims to testify against him at trial.  Five of the women tested positive for HIV, but there was little rhyme or reason to the distribution of misfortune. "Some who had hundreds of incidents of unprotected sex, including anal sex, they're negative," says Thurston County deputy prosecutor Jodilyn Erikson-Muldrew. "Another woman who had “protected” sex all but twice, tested positive."

Anthony Whitfield was convicted and sentenced to 178 years in prison.

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