A British man found guilty for intentionally infecting five men with HIV was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday, the conclusion of a unique case that was a first for the country and has drawn coverage from around the world.
Daryll Rowe, who was convicted of five counts of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, is the first person to be convicted of the charge in Britain, according to the Telegraph. Rowe had claimed the disease was no longer terminal and his lawyers had asked the judge not to give a sentence that would reinforce stigma about AIDS.
The sentencing was preceded by statements from Rowe’s victims, who also included five people who did not end up contracting the virus.
One of Rowe’s victims said he always “did everything” to ward off the virus after his parents had died of AIDS when he was younger.
“Daryll Rowe decided to take that right away from me,” the victim said, according to the Guardian. “A part of me died that day when I was diagnosed. The old me is no longer. The new me is constantly sad, thinking about how my life changed. I have been devastated by Rowe’s actions.”
Rowe was diagnosed in 2015, the Guardian reported. During the six-week trial, the jury heard that he refused treatment and ignored medical advice, instead insisting on unprotected sex with men he met through the Grindr app. He tore or cut off the end of the condoms if they refused to have unprotected sex, leaving victims unaware that they had been exposed, according to news media reports.
In the days after their encounters, he sent taunting messages to many of the victims.
“Maybe you have the fever,” he wrote to one, according to the Telegraph. “I have HIV. Whoops.”
To another: “I ripped the condom. I got you.”
Prosecutors read some of these exchanges in court.
Rowe was emotionless during the proceeding, reports said.
In the United States, California recently reduced the penalty for knowingly exposing others to HIV, from a felony to a misdemeanor. Advocates described the punishment as a vestige of the public-health crisis and fearful climate around AIDS in the late 1980s and said it was not enforced as it was intended. Cases like Rowe’s are relatively rare, according to data from the state; only seven people were convicted of intentionally infecting others between 1988 and 2014.
Deborah Gold, chief executive of Britain’s National AIDS Trust, called Rowe’s case exceptional, saying that the “vast majority” of 100,000 people in Britain with HIV took medication that prevented their ability to pass the virus on.
“Such intentional transmission is serious and deplorable, but this one-off case must be seen in context,” she said, according to BuzzFeed. “It is vital that this case is not used as an excuse to add to the unacceptable stigma that people living with HIV experience.”
In England, Scotland and Wales, people can be found guilty of recklessly transmitting HIV if they are aware of their status and HIV’s ability to be transmitted, the person they are with doesn’t, and they have sex without a condom that results in the virus being transmitted, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust, a British charity with a focus on HIV.
A charge of intentional transmission requires proof that the person maliciously tried to transmit HIV to the other person, the charity wrote. Someone can be charged with intentional transmission only if it can be proved they maliciously and intentionally tried to give the other person HIV. Rowe’s conviction was the first.