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Is It Ever OK To Publicly Out Someone as HIV-Positive? Even If They're a Sex Offender?

Bruce Bemer
Bruce Bemer

Uttering AIDS or HIV in a court setting arouses deep emotions that carries extra stigma.

For over 40 years, victims claim that Bruce J. Bemer, a businessman from Glastonbury, Connecticut knowingly exposing others to HIV while having barrier-free sex with his victims. Bemer was arrested last year, along with two other men, for alleged crimes in connection with a long-running sex trafficking ring.

There is, however, more to the story than meets the eye. Stigma, homophobia, and AIDSphobia all play a role in how Bemer and others are judged by the jury, and prosecution teams are well aware of the power behind them.

Anytime the word “AIDS” or “HIV” is uttered in a court setting, deep emotions can be aroused, especially for anyone who witnessed the ravages of AIDS before effective medicine was available.

Bemer is charged with patronizing a trafficked person in connection with what authorities called a “long-running human trafficking ring,” according to The Danbury News-Times. Bemer was arrested last year along with Danbury, Connecticut resident Robert King and Westport, Connecticut resident William Trefzger.

The prosecution alleges that King would lure young men, often with disabilities, with drugs, only to create drug debts and then sell them to wealthy men like Bemer. Sex trafficking has been linked by researchers to an increased risk of HIV in other parts of the world.

On Friday, February 16, Bemer’s Attorney Anthony Spinella argued that the state broke the law when it named his client by name in its request for an HIV test. Spinella argued that the prosecutors should have referred to him by a pseudonym. Bemer’s name appeared on the court dockets, available for all to see. Spinella may be referring to the Right to Privacy, which is alluded to in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, although its scope is often disputed. In March, Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban granted a request in the criminal proceedings in March to have Bemer tested for HIV, and the results were to be disclosed to the victims.

Even though it’s already been made public that Bemer may be tested for HIV, the defense team is attempting to seal at least Bemer’s name from court documents, and perhaps his health information.

Spinella claimed that bringing up HIV was designed only to anger the courtroom. “It is scandalous and completely immaterial to the allegations in the complaint,” Spinella stated, adding that the request was “designed to arouse a homophobic response.” Bemer’s charges, after all, are about sex trafficking, and not necessarily HIV.

The prosecution quickly fired back, citing the homophobia defense as nonsense. “The defendant’s attempt to inject homophobia into this case is unfounded, insulting and disingenuous,” stated attorney Joel Faxon.

Bemer has plenty of money to play with, and he knows it. In the event of an enormous settlement payout, Bemer has agreed to set aside $25 million to cover any potential judgement. Bemer already rejected a plea deal in January that would’ve granted him parole plus time served for a guilty plea. Bemer instead chose to pursue a trial by jury, the only way that he could potentially avoid a felony charge on his permanent record.

Some of the victims are seeking compensation if it is proven that Bemer is indeed HIV-positive. The pending charges remain active.

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Benjamin M. Adams