In the UK, You Can Be Jailed for Giving Your Girlfriend Herpes
I can’t see many people bettering David Golding’s break-up story. After his then-girlfriend found out that he’d given her herpes, she dumped him, reported him to the police, and watched as he was jailed for 14 months for passing on the STI. The reason the sentencing was so severe is because Golding was charged with (and pled guilty to) grievous bodily harm (GBH), which usually means stabbing or beating the shit out of someone—not giving them a virus that roughly 25 percent of the UK’s sexually active population already have.
Unsurprisingly, sexual health organizations weren’t very happy about the verdict, claiming it contributed to the wrongful stigmatization of what is really a pretty “trivial” condition. Those same organizations were just as outraged last week when the Court of Appeal rejected Golding’s appeal against his conviction. Lord Justice Treacy, sitting next to two other judges, said that even though Golding had acted “recklessly rather than deliberately” in giving his ex the virus, his original conviction was appropriate (though did reduce his sentence to three months).
I called up Marian Nicholson, director of the Herpes Virus Association, to see how this latest verdict has gone down in the herpes world.
VICE: What do you think about the judge’s decision to reject David Golding’s appeal?
Marian Nicholson: I find it to be absolutely shocking.
Do you think the sentence itself was disproportionate to the offence of giving someone herpes?
I don’t want to comment on the length of the sentence itself, because I don’t know enough about proper sentences for GBH. But I don’t believe this case was in the public interest; the judge even said that Golding didn’t give his girlfriend the virus deliberately.
Does the judge’s decision to reject Golding’s appeal pose a threat to anyone else in the future who might find themselves in a similar case?
Of course. It’s a disaster for common sense. The sexual health doctors are all with us on that. We’re conferring with all the top sexual health doctors from an organization called BASHH [British Association for Sexual Health and HIV]; they’re all horrified at the ridiculousness of basically taking someone to court for passing on a cold sore.
[Genital herpes] is incredibly common. It’s almost impossible to prove who you got it from; anyone with a cold sore on their face doing oral sex could give it to a partner on the genitals. So, basically, they’re saying that anyone with a cold sore on their face could end up in the dock.