BOISE– The local health department says it plans to initiate a community-conversation on how to combat a growing concern: risky behavior that’s leading to more HIV infections.
The plan comes after a 7 Investigation highlighted public places in our valley where people are known to meet complete strangers for anonymous sex.
Of the places the anonymous sex is reported to be happening, adult bookstores concern officials the most. Yet, when our original investigation aired, every agency we spoke to said it could not regulate sexual activity inside.
Now, they say they’re going to try to do something about it because of the public health and safety risk.
The health department says it’s taking an extra step to find a solution and a city prosecutor tells us if the risky behavior happens in his city, he will take it to court.
According to Idaho health officials, anonymous sex is contributing to an increase in HIV/AIDS. There was a 50% increase in local HIV infections over the past 5 years. In the same period, AIDS cases nearly doubled from 26 to 50.
From patients, they’re learning where people meet for anonymous sex: city parks like Ann Morrison in Boise, interstate public rest stops and a bathroom at the BSU Library.
There’s a technology component, too. Some websites list where to find someone looking for anonymous sex. There’s even a phone app that tells you on a map if there’s a willing stranger nearby.
What alarmed Garden City prosecuting attorney Charles Wadams was the anonymous sex officials say is happening at adult bookstores.
KTVB saw it first-hand. Our producer went undercover to a Boise adult bookstore. In a booth meant for adult videos, he found an opening in the wall. Through that, he was propositioned for anonymous sex in a matter of minutes.
“I think that’s a violation of the law, based on what you told me, that’s a potential violation of the Idaho code,” said Wadams.
In Garden City, just a couple miles from his office, there is an adult bookstore.
“So if that had happened in Garden City at that bookstore?” asked the reporter. “And we knew who the perpetrator was, and they didn’t have an expectation of privacy, I would prosecute him,” Wadams replied.
He says prosecuting sexual activity inside a business isn’t black and white. It’s a matter of balancing reasonable expectation of privacy versus the government’s interest to protect public health and safety.
But he says generally, he could slap offenders with a crime under Idaho state law.
“It could be obscene live conduct,” he said. “Our statute doesn’t only cover public places, it covers any place open to the public or a segment thereof and so I think the legislative intent is potentially to cover those types of situations.” Those types of situations are also a concern for local health officials- who want the risky behavior of anonymous sex to stop.
While they have no enforcement authority over the bookstores, the Central District Health Department says it will work the phones and reach out to law enforcement, community partners, and even some of the adult bookstores, to help prevent the spread of HIV.
“We generally do not see much resistance when they understand we’re trying to do what’s best for public health not hinder their business in any way,” said Nikki Sakata of the Central District Health Department.
“I would say in the next few months we’ll have an opportunity to establish some relationships and probably hold some meetings and see what measures we can take to continue to help protect the public’s health.”
Wadams says if businesses knowingly allow sexual activity to occur, they could be charged with aiding in a crime.
It would be a misdemeanor charge for them, and the customers who were participating.