“I Wanted to Stop This Man”
Rita is a self-confident, attractive 50-year-old woman. She works in international product management. She spent her last holiday on a tent safari in Africa, the continent that she likes to visit time and again. Bernd Aretz spoke with her.
In 2004, she met the man in South Africa who she would go onto marry and bring to Germany under the family reunification programme. HIV was a topic at the beginning of the relationship. He claimed that he had taken an HIV test and it had a negative result. Even shortly after the marriage, her husband – she now knows – engaged in a number of sexual relationships with other women. This had already began in the late summer of 2005 with a young African woman who showed the typical symptoms of a recent HIV infection a few weeks after their first encounter. This was confirmed by an HIV test. When she made him aware of this and explained that the infection could only have occurred through him, she requested that he also have himself tested. He reacted in an calm manner and accused her of probably having slept with a number of men. Then he read the Bible with her as a source of comfort. Rita only discovered this when she met the woman several years later at a self-help group for HIV- positive women and fell into conversation.
In February 2006, he met another woman and remained silent about his marriage – as he did with all of the others. When she questioned him, he declared that he had never been in contact with HIV and was obviously not infected with HIV. He maintained a sexual relationship with her for about four months. Before the start of the relationship, she had taken an HIV test that was negative. She became ill during the course of the relationship and took another HIV test, which had a positive result. She also talked to him about it and – now that she knew he was married – demanded that he inform his wife. When she asked whether he had done this, he said yes. During a later telephone call between the two women, Rita discovered for the first time that her husband was infected:
“I wasn’t so disappointed that he had given me his infection. Perhaps he really didn’t know about it at the start of our relationship. He may have been too trusting about it and I may have caught it quite early. What disappointed me is that he didn’t even tell me after he had definitive knowledge of it. That is incompatible with my idea of a serious relationship or marriage. I believed in love and hadn’t seen that I was essentially being used in order to make a life in Germany possible for him.”
She doesn’t want to accuse him of this. That was her decision. It didn’t even lead directly to her separating from him. She didn’t do that until she found out about further affairs and she realised that he acted pursued sex without any consideration for the women he slept with and subsequently infected more of them, as she later discovered.
She explained: “My problem was that I couldn’t convince him to protect the women. I had the feeling that I must stop him. Over the course of time, I became acquainted with a number of women who became infected as a result of the contact with him. This was the catalyst for me to press charges against him. I didn’t even think that this would lead to a conviction. I actually wanted a higher authority – such as the police – to bring him to his senses. I wanted to stop him. In the conversations with the other women, I found out how much they suffered from their HIV. I have personally managed to come to terms with mine, but I couldn’t just watch how he destroyed one life after the other without doing anything. Since conversations with him were completely futile, I hoped the court would make it clear to him that he was not allowed to behave in such an inconsiderate manner. No matter what he believes about his illness, he is intelligent enough to know that he can’t just pray it away and that he is capable of infecting his partners. My goal was not revenge, compensation for my own suffering or punishment.”
After her complaint, it took a year before the first hearing and then another before the first trial was held in front of the court of lay assessors. Her feeling that the proceedings were not running smoothly caused her to join as a joint plaintiff with the help of an attorney, which also allowed her to have access to the records.
“It turned out that the court had not even invited the infected women to testify as witnesses. We had to force the court to do this. I had some very colourful experiences with the judicial system. I was not treated well as a victim, even if I don’t see myself as such. I thought the way that the witnesses were treated was terrible. After all, this is a very sensitive topic. It’s clear that certain questions must be asked. However, the attempt by the defence to turn these young women into ‘sluts’ was unworthy. It was terrible to see how these injured women were treated in the courtroom – to the point that I asked myself why I was subjecting the women and myself to these proceedings. In the court of appeal, one of the women declared that she would no longer testify.
“She was simply afraid because he was on the loose. My ex-husband had rejected the judge’s previous offer of giving him a suspended sentence if he admitted his guilt in order to spare the women from testifying. During the criminal proceedings, he behaved in such a disrespectful and aggressive manner towards the witnesses that he received a penalty for contempt of court and was finally sentenced to two years and six months in prison. In the appeal to the district court, only the sentence was negotiated but this did not result in any changes. Then there was another appeal, which meant that he was still on the loose and continued to make trouble.
“ In the meantime, he was now in a new relationship, once again with a woman who knew nothing of his status. A girlfriend and I informed her. After all, I was in an awkward situation as the ex-wife since it looks like petty revenge. But that’s not what this was about. The women must know the truth so they can get treatment in time and not when they have severe pneumonia or another accompanying illness.
“The public prosecutor and court in Landau reacted quickly. There was an arrest warrant due to danger of repeat offending. Once the appeal had been rejected, the pre-trial imprisonment turned into the prison sentence. Due to the further cases, he was sentenced in Landau to three years and six months, which included the initial sentence. Further charges have probably been brought against him in the meantime since he has also infected his new partner.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what this had set into motion. From the perspective of the failed relationship, the correct response would have been divorce. Had I been the only case, I could never have come up with the idea of filing a complaint against him. Had he not endangered or hurt other women after the first appeal and the appeal to the higher regional court, I would not have given the additional testimony about everything that I had learned in the meantime to the policewoman. And I know the other women see things in a similar way. This no longer upsets me. I have no problem looking this man in the face. But I know what an enormous pressure the other women suffered from when they were confronted with him, how much trauma they must live with as a result and how many tears also flowed in the court room.”
In response to the question of whether she would once again file a criminal complaint despite all of her experiences with the judicial system, she responded: “Yes, I believe so. When I think about how he still hasn’t learned anything, continues to cause problems, exploit and cheat on women, I would want to stop it. It was important to me that he can no longer harm the women. The proceedings helped me to deal with my inner conflicts. I had always had the feeling that I had brought him to Germany. I had been taken in by him.
“I have come to peace with myself. This was a case of damage containment for me. But I cannot save every woman who has or will be infected by him. For now, he is in prison and I can say to myself that this is also good. Had there been a possibility for me to go to the public health department to achieve this, then that would have been an alternative for me. I am no longer certain whether prison is the right place for him to learn from his mistakes. If there had been an opportunity for him to receive in-patient psychological treatment, that may have been even more sensible. But this obviously would require him to be voluntarily willing to do this ,and I doubt he would. So the only alternative was prison.”