Sexism about sexual assault?

Last month, former CFL star Trevis_Smith was sentenced to 5.5 years in jail on aggravated sexual assault charges for having sex with a variety of women without disclosing his HIV positive status. From the beginning of the coverage of the charges against Smith, it was treated as an aggravated assault … Police immediately applied the aggravated charge, and the subsequent media coverage treated Smith like a dangerous sexual predator, stalking women to intentionally have unprotected sex with them.

Yesterday, a 26 year old Hamilton woman was charged with sexual assault for essentially the same thing as Smith … having repeated unprotected sex with multiple partners without disclosing her HIV positive status. In both cases, authorities have made comments about the incidents being “reckless” as opposed to “malicious.” In the case of Smith, the judge sentencing him described his crime this way …

“I’m satisfied he displayed, throughout this whole time — from when he learned he had HIV in November of 2003 until the time of his arrest in October 2005 — a very indifferent attitude with respect to the expectations that the law required on his part to basically come clean with respect to his sexual partners.”
from Trevis Smith Sentenced to 5.5 Years in Prison, ctv.ca

The language here (the use of the word indifferent, for instance) indicates, as with the police statement about Robin Lee St. Clair, that the actions in both cases weren’t malicious as much as they were negligent, but yet while Smith was immediately hit with the stronger charge of aggravated sexual assault, St. Clair has only been charged with sexual assault initially. Police do say they are considering stronger charges, but the entire incident with St. Clair is being handled far more gently than when it was a big, black football player accused of the crime.

There may very well be extenuating circumstances that make the elevated charges against Smith reasonable while not applying the same charges to St. Clair, but from what I see in the media accounts, I can see no difference to account for it. Both people were HIV positive, and had unprotected sex with multiple partners. Both were under orders to disclose, and refused to disclose. From what I can see, neither was acting in a malicious way, and both failed to disclose mostly out of fear and negligence rather than intent to cause harm. I can see no overt differences here, except that Smith is a big black football player, and St. Clair is a young white woman … but if that is what accounts for the difference in charges and coverage, then thats a pretty damning indictment of the Canadian legal system and media.

To me, this case shows that sexism still abounds. In this case, it seems to me that the aggravated assault charge faced by Smith was more a result of who he was than the actual crimes … if the actual crimes were what determined that charge, it strikes me that St. Clair would be facing the same aggravated assault charge today that Smith did in 2005.

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