HIV-positive woman in Switzerland sentenced after having unprotected sex, even though partners knew she had HIV

Michael Carter
Published: 07 April 2006

An HIV-positive woman in Switzerland has received a suspended prison sentence after having consensual unprotected sex, even though none of her partners subsequently became infected with HIV, and she informed the men of her HIV infection before having sex with them. The woman has also been ordered to notify the authorities of the names of her future sexual partners – even if she uses condoms with them.

A Swiss high court interpretation of Article 231 of the country’s penal code means that an HIV-positive individuals can be prosecuted for having unprotected sex with an HIV-negative person, even if the sex is consensual, disclosure of HIV status takes place, and there is no HIV transmission.

The woman only came to the attention to the courts because she was identified by a man being investigated for rape as one of his victims. Before the rape, the woman had consensual sex with the man and two other partners. All three men had known she was HIV-positive before having unprotected sex with her.

As a result of this man’s information, a prosecution file was opened on the woman and she was charged with deliberately spreading a disease. The court was told that the woman was raped several times by the man whose information subsequently lead to her arrest and prosectution.

Sentencing her to three years in prison, suspended for one year, the court ruled that her partners’ knowledge of her HIV status, and the fact that HIV transmission did not occur, was irrelevant. She was ordered to name all her past sexual partners and all her future ones, irrespective of whether they used condoms or not.

HIV advocacy organisations have criticised the court’s verdict and lawyers have expressed concern that the court’s orders undermine the woman’s right to privacy.