Many of us have received a scare email-chain story, threatening bad luck or even death to those who refuse to send the message on.
The idea of a ‘pin prick’ attack, where victims were deliberately infected with needles and syringes containing HIV are relatively rare and seem to belong mainly to this world of chain email scare-stories. Some considered the ‘pin prick’ attack to be mainly confined to this domain.
While cases of actual HIV or AIDS resulting from such an attack are incredibly rare, this actually did occur in Sydney prison, Long Bay Jail where an inmate deliberately stabbed a prison officer with a blood filled syringe.
Mr Pearce, the prison officer contracted the disease and it killed him in 1998, at just 28 years old, seven years after he was infected.
But the occurrences of ‘syringe robberies’ are, unfortunately, not as rare as we might like to think.
One Queensland newspaper counted four such attacks in just one week.
Just a few months ago a man who used a blood-filled syringe to conduct a robbery in a southern Sydney milkbar appeared before the Nowra Local Court. He was refused bail.
31-year-old Steven Brackley, it was alleged, entered the shop at around 5:40 in the afternoon and stole $1600 as well as a cash register worth $500.
The female attendant in the milkbar was 39 months pregnant at the time. The Nowra man who appeared in Nowra Local Court had also allegedly carried out two bag snatches the same day.
Even more recently, a Hornsby teen was stabbed with a syringe during an attempted robbery. A woman approached him, asked for money and then stabbed him with a syringe when he refused. She then ran off.
Fortunately, after being treated at the hospital, all was well with the 19 year old.
Using a syringe in order to commit a robbery is armed robbery.
In the case heard before the Nowra Local Court, the man was charged with robbery with an offensive weapon, larceny and with two counts of stealing from a person.
This crime, under the NSW Crimes Act section 97, carries a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment.
But although being threatened with a syringe is not unheard of in Australia, most times that a syringe is used as part of a robbery, it does not contain HIV or any other harmful substance. It may even be unused and may not even be actually injected into the victim of the robbery.
Similar to a replica pistol which may not have the capacity to cause bodily harm, it can still be used to inspire fear, a syringe.
But syringe robberies are in many ways different to using a gun – not only is a syringe much smaller but they can be bought legally, cheaply and without a licence.
Courts deal with such cases involving syringes, even an uninfected one as a very serious offence.
In fact, according to one NSW case in 2006, using a blood-filled syringe when conducting a robbery was found to be even more serious than using a knife or similar category of weapon because of the terror that it may cause.
Even if no robbery takes place, threatening with a syringe, for any reason, can still classify as assault, even if the syringe never makes contact with the victim. The definition of assault is wider than just hurting someone or causing them harm; even the threat of violence is enough.
There are two possible things that can be considered assault:
- anything that involves touching another person with or without their consent
- anything that makes the person fear for their immediate physical safety
Courts are very strict when imposing sentences on those who use syringes to commit robbery or other crimes, in order to deter others from committing this particularly abhorrent crime.