By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
The Israel AIDS Task Force welcomed the sentencing of Chris Serfo to 25 years in prison for infecting three women with AIDS, one of whom he raped.
"We are sure that he got what he deserved. What he did is very wrong," said the task force's spokesman, David Erez.
He said the punishment sent a message that AIDS patients "have to know that they are responsible for other lives, too," as well as cautioning that "HIV-negatives, which I hope is the rest of the population, have to know they are responsible for their bodies."
Erez said that all the women involved in Serfo's indictment had been in contact with his organization, as were several others who had decided not to go to the police.
"They were scared. To be HIV positive in Israel - it's not easy, because of the society and the stereotypes," he said, but noted that increasingly, "the society is more understanding that you are not dying from AIDS, that you can't get HIV from shaking hands or drinking from the same cup of coffee."
He described most of Serfo's victims as tremendously angry at what had been done to them, but noted that one "was very surprising."
"She told us that she was not mad at [Serfo]. He ruined her life, but she got used to the illness," Erez said. "Everybody's supportive and she's carrying on."
Tanya Abarbanel of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel said her organization encourages all rape victims to visit the hospital, "both in terms of checking for sexually transmitted diseases, and if it's close enough to the rape itself, to get evidence as well."
But in the end, she noted, "it's up to the victim to decide."
Erez stressed that anyone who has sex outside of a long-term, committed relationship must get tested regularly - every three to six months - for AIDS. He estimated that 200-250,000 AIDS tests are conducted each year in hospitals and in the task force's anonymous centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Erez said that 4,200 Israelis are HIV-positive according to the official numbers, but he estimated that twice that number actually have the disease. Only a few are "very, very sick," he said, thanks to medical treatment.
According to Erez, the virus is spreading more quickly in Israel than in previous years, with more than one new case diagnosed every day.
From 1981 through 2004, 4,141 people were diagnosed as HIV carriers and AIDS patients; 946 of them have died or left the country.
Women are increasingly the victims of AIDS, according to the task force. While women constituted 27% of HIV carriers in 1996, they were last year 37% of carriers in 2003.