Daryll Rowe, 26, is spending the rest of his life in jail.
It’s not because he has HIV.
Daryll Rowe, who was convicted of five counts of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, is the first person to be convicted of the charge in Britain, according to the Telegraph.
It’s because he intentionally infected or tried to infect his sexual partners with HIV, and then taunted them deliberately via text message after their sexual encounter(s).
Rowe isn’t in jail because he didn’t disclose his HIV status. He was convicted for intentionally causing grievous bodily harm. It was the first time such a charge has been brought to court in the UK.
Last week I watched an advanced screening of “The Man Who Used HIV As a Weapon” by special admission from the BBC. This 45 minute documentary by Charlotte Charlton aired this past weekend in England on BBC Three.
Here’s the synopsis:
This powerful documentary tells the intimate and shocking accounts of five men who were targeted by Daryll Rowe, the first person in the UK to be convicted after deliberately infecting others with the HIV virus. He was found guilty of multiple counts of GBH.
The men in this film have all waived their right to anonymity to speak publicly for the first time. Some, before filming, hadn’t even told their families. And all have the same question: why did he do it?
Through their multiple perspectives, this film builds a gripping account of how Rowe set out on a dangerous, nationwide campaign to trick men into having unprotected sex with him over a period of 18 months. The men share first-hand experiences of how Rowe would lie about his HIV status, sabotage condoms and later send abusive text messages to his victims, taunting them with the virus.
More than 20 men reported him to the police, but nobody knows how many others Daryll Rowe targeted.
Through candid and revealing testimonies, the film explores not only the devastating effect of psychological abuse, but also the resilience of ordinary people. Alongside the men, we hear from Rowe’s foster mother as she tries to come to terms with - and to understand - her son’s crimes. But, there is only one person who really has the answer: Rowe himself. A final interview given from prison attempts to understand his motive and provide answers for those affected.
The Man Who Used HIV As A Weapon is a 1x45’ for BBC Three, is made by Century Films. The Director is Charlotte Charlton, in her long-form directorial debut, and the Executive Producer is Katie Bailiff. It was commissioned by Damian Kavanagh, former Controller, BBC Three, and Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries. The Commissioning Editor is Emily Smith.
I Struggle With This Documentary
Honestly, things fall apart for me in this case when they may not in anybody else’s minds and I struggle coming to terms with this specific horrific case of HIV criminalization and what it means for everyone’s responsibilities during consensual sex.
[Before I share my thoughts, please understand I am not victim blaming. With that context, please continue.]
In this documentary, we are constantly shown terrible images of the convicted Rowe, only a brief interview from him from a jail phone call to his family when the director jumped on the line to ask a few questions, followed by long pauses from crying and visibly shaken past partners of His. Although it may not need any help in doing so, it paints an ugly description of Rowe.
From the start of the documentary, his former sexual partners share their own stories of falling for Rowe in their own lived experiences. All of them seem genuine and still somewhat taken aback by Rowe—almost still in a trance-like state. It’s hard for me to explain in any other way. So take that description as a grain of salt.
Rowe was trying a variety of fake HIV cure methods from online. I refuse to post any of that here—except saying this… there is no natural cure to HIV found by drinking your own urine. The only want to treat HIV is get on treatment, reach an undetectable viral load, and live a near normal life.
Each of his former sexual partners reveal how his charm, personality, and good looks led them on a journey that changed their lives—though they didn’t realize to what extent ultimately. They smile at first when discussing how they met him. All showcasing how naive they each are in meeting someone they just spoke to on a gay dating app, and then somehow ending up naked and in bed with him. There are only a few moments with the self-realization that sex—their actions as well as Rowe’s actions—involved any inherent risks. The documentary allows this naive narrative to build up to the reveal, per se, of the demon—Rowe. Although the documentary title does that with ease without any true revelation. I found all of them authentic and warm.
Until… they share their individual real-life nightmares of this cruel and inhumane sexual predator taking advantage of their sexual trust and revealing how Rowe antagonized them via text message days and weeks after having sex with each of them. His text messages, he says, were responses to feeling rejected by each of the men for one reason or another—for example, if they stopped responding, as we have all experienced from hookups, he says he would send a vile message about HIV. (The prosecution in the case used these messages to prove intent.)
I’m not attempting to make these text messages any less awful—they are hateful and nasty. But, I can’t look at them and not wonder if these messages were just the only way he could attempt to hurt someone or get a reaction from someone who he obviously felt hurt by—whether real or not? The complication he didn’t think about potentionally is that he was admitting over and over his knowledge of his HIV status. This is may be showcasing my own naivety in thinking people are inherently good, but there exists enough reasonable doubt about “intent” in my mind that I would of really struggled locking this guy up for the rest of his life and tossing away the key. I would of also struggled in looking these partners in the eyes and saying I didn’t punish Rowe.
Maybe my experience of being with a past boyfriend that would say anything and everything to me to hurt me after a fight affects my understanding that people say shitty things. Sometimes so shitty and as far as the final night my ex from many years ago and I were together when he said, “Don’t go to sleep, Josh. You may not wake up.” Did I then or do I now believe he was intending to kill me? No. But if you just look at those words—that would be a credible threat of bodily harm with intent. But the reality is that those words were the only thing my ex knew would get a response from me and the most vile thing he thought he could say to me because he felt hurt. His intent was to hurt me with his words. He lacked the intent to actually physically hurt me.
I don’t question whether Rowe did what he did, or if he sent these horrifically vile text messages after the fact—I just can’t come to terms with this all being his master plan. That’s what the struggle for me rests around. If Rowe believed he was actually cured of HIV by natural remedies (and the following video showcases his fascination with natural remedies), is it possible that even though he sent vile texts later on to hurt them or get a reaction, that he ultimately never had intent to infect them? I don’t know. But is there any reasonable doubt? For me, that space exists—at least theoretically.
Additionally it’s important to mention, Rowe damaged condoms when a partner wanted to use protection—something so vile. Something I’ve experienced before as well during sex. This doesn’t necessary elevate intent to infect for me—it was just intent to not use a condom. I understand argument can be clearly made that it could show intent to infect.
It’s so difficult to watch this documentary knowing this was a reality for these men. Why would someone do such a terrible thing?
Well, although I’m not certain since I have no medical training with mental health, I begin to wonder about Rowe’s past as a child. Did he experience sexual abuse? The documentary then shares he was repeatedly abused sexually throughout his childhood landing him in foster care system. He was a high risk child in that system as a potential runaway.
With that said, Rowe’s only interview in the documentary ends with him apologizing—even briefly—to the former partners and he offers a wish that they be able to carry on their lives despite a few of them being diagnosed with HIV.
The men in this documentary have the right to be heard. Rowe also was convicted and sentenced to life. Police say even more alleged victims may be out there, but aren’t sure.
The men in this documentary express tremendous pain and agony due to their twisted journeys with Rowe. My hope is that they can use this insane experience to help other learn about HIV, reduce stigma about living with it, and help shape a modern, revised criminal code to update antique HIV laws around the world.
Though I haven’t been able to come to terms with this specific case, I am still strongly against any HIV criminalization laws being on the books. I look at experts in prevention that share that these laws, as currently written, make prevention work more complicated. However, I also, believe in ethical personal disclosure when there is a risk for transmission. I just can’t support it being a crime during consensual sex.