April Bullock charged with sexual assault, accused of hiding HIV status

A Hamilton woman required to disclose her HIV positive status to her sexual partners has been charged by police with sexual assault after allegedly failing to do so. The charges once more put Hamilton at the centre of debate over ciminalization of HIV non-disclosure.

Woman's medical status is one that requires her to notify all of her sexual partners of it

April Bullock has been charged with three counts of sexual assault. (Hamilton Police Service )

A Hamilton woman required to disclose her HIV positive status to her sexual partners has been charged by police with sexual assault after allegedly failing to do so.

April Dawn Bullock has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of probation violation, marking the second time police have taken action against her over non-disclosure of her HIV status.

The charges bring forward once more the debate over whether charging people for non-disclosure is an effective and appropriate way of dealing with the issue.

There's a problem with criminalization of disease of any kind because it drives things underground.- AIDS activist Ian Jarvis

Investigators from the Hamilton Police Service were initially contacted by a person who had been sexually active with her on multiple occasions in 2014 and was not aware of her medical condition. The individual learned about it later and reported it to the police, which launched an investigation. 

Detective Scott Moore said he could not provide further details on Bullock's probation charges or the health or status of the accuser who contacted police.  

Bullock is in police custody. This is not the first time she has faced charges related to her HIV status.

She was charged with five counts of sexual assault in 2011 for not disclosing her HIV status. She served time in prison and was required to register as a sex offender upon her release. She has spoken openly in public forums about being HIV positive.

Complex issue

"We have reason to believe there may be additional persons who may have information or who may be victims or witnesses to Ms. Bullock's acts," Moore said.  

Hamilton Police say that anyone who has had sexual contact with Bullock since 1997 should see a doctor. These people are encouraged to contact Detective Moore at 905-546-4614.

People can also contact the City of Hamilton Sexual Health Information Line at 905-528- 5894, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 

Police distributed Bullock's photograph because they believe she may be using different names. 

Ian Jarvis is an AIDS activist and producer of Unlocking HIV, a community film project based out of Hamilton, Ont., in which Bullock is interviewed. Jarvis says this is a very complex topic. 

"It’s tragic to hear that she has been charged again. I don’t know about this new case and I don’t want to influence it, but I know how those charges were brought forward last time and it was problematic. Her probation charges were conflicting and convoluted," he said.

“Sex offenders aren’t allowed to be with children. She has fought to get her child back, who has special needs. She could not have an intimate relationship for five years. She had to report everyone she had sex with. There were stringent rules that seemed impossible to follow. She was also being monitored by a public health and probation officer. This is not someone who was keeping this a secret."

Criminalization debate

Jarvis also said Bullock had an undetectable viral load (when the concentration of HIV falls below the concentration that can be detected by laboratory tests) and was taking her medication regularly. "There is a lot of context here," he said.

In the documentary, Bullock says she contracted HIV in 1997 when she was raped as a teenager while living in a group home.

There is a debate in which some doctors say the Canadian justice system is unfairly prosecuting people who don't disclose they're HIV-positive, because some people with an undetectable viral load have a negligible possibility of transmitting HIV during vaginal-penile intercourse.

Jarvis works as an activist to decriminalize non-disclosure of HIV status. 

Johnson Aziga, a Ugandan-born Canadian man living in Hamilton, was the first person to be charged and convicted of first-degree murder in Canada for spreading HIV that resulted in the death of two women

Good policy or bad?

The Aziga case was criticized by Richard Elliott, deputy director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, who argued the decision may lead to a “dominant impression out there of people living with HIV as potential criminals, which is not an accurate or fair representation.”

Jarvis says the Aziga case is one reason why Unlocking HIV focuses on Hamilton.

"People are supposed to disclose their HIV status, but it is so complex. The stigma alone causes people to freak out, people have been blackmailed or abused. It's goes against good public health policy in general." 

Jarvis says when people are forced into a situation where they must disclose their health status or they risk being charged with aggravated sexual assault and going to jail, it discourages people from being tested because there is a notion that if people just don't find out what their HIV status is, they cannot be charged, because they didn't know they had it.

"There's a problem with criminalization of disease of any kind because it drives things underground," he said. "You should assume that anyone with whom you are sexually active could have a sexually transmitted disease. It's not realistic to assume people are going to tell you those things."