The conviction of the first man in the country to be found guilty of intentionally setting out to spread HIV opens old wounds for Steve, but initiates a change of heart when it comes to criminalisation.
Last week, a man was jailed for twelve years for trying to deliberately infect ten men with HIV.
He infected five with whom he had unprotected sex, and he tampered with the condoms of another five whom he had failed to infect. He is the first man in the country to be found guilty of intentionally setting out to spread the virus.
This had an unexpected impact on me. The thing is, I acquired HIV through an ex-boyfriend who did EXACTLY the same thing.
I’ve had difficulty addressing my own HIV status and how it happened. Over the past twelve years, which has felt like a long time, I have wanted to see my ex-boyfriend punished.
But I have, over time, come to the view that, even in these circumstances, criminalising HIV is not – and never can be – the right way to improve understanding and improve the lives of those of us with HIV.
The sentencing judge made clear that the sentence was “not about stigmatising anyone living with HIV”, but by sentencing this man, sending him to prison, what impact does that have on the wider public perception is that people with HIV are dangerous deviants?
When I read the BBC reporting of the sentencing, I was struck in particular by a number of the views expressed, which included:
‘If you have a dog, and that dog has rabies, and it bites someone, you’d put it down’
I hope you can understand why I may have a problem with that viewpoint?
The change in my position has taken a lot of time. I’ve had to deal with what happened to me, and to others, as well as a significant amount of testicular fortitude.
But I have been HIV-positive for twelve years now, which, aside from making me feel old as fuck, entitles me to express my views. You see, after twelve years, I have some experience in this matter, I know how it feels to be viewed with suspicion and persecuted.
Given that what Daryll Rowe did is exactly the same way in which I became positive, I hope that, for me to be the one pointing out that actually ‘stoking fires of suspicion, criminalising HIV and inciting fear doesn’t help anyone’ makes the point.
I have been positive a long time, longer than most of my other positive friends. I have lived and loved with it, been marginalised, verbally and physically abused because of it.
I stayed silent about my status for a long time, but when, in 2013, I started talking, supported by Christian and later Tom and Liam, I realised that not only did I have a lot to say, but what I had to say was relevant.
So here goes:
- I understand that this is a nuanced case.
- I understand that to deliberately pass the virus on is wrong.
- But my view is that the criminalisation of HIV is also wrong.
- The way the court case and sentencing was reported in the mainstream media was wrong.
- The attitudes of so many people towards those millions of us living with HIV is wrong.
- I offer a full, unreserved apology for my previously held and expressed views that, in some circumstances, conviction and punishment was appropriate. I was wrong.
- My judgement, clouded by my personal experience, was wrong.
- I know some incredible HIV-positive men, some of whom fear being open about their status and have told literally no-one but me. It’s this sort of shit that makes them fear being open – lest people think the worst of them.
- I’ve been undetectable for years and can’t pass the virus on. I am nothing to fear. The only way to change the attitude of people who think I am, is through education – not criminalisation.
- Criminalisation of HIV reinforces a negative message that so many people have worked so hard and for so long to remedy.
People living with HIV either all rise, or all fall together. Let’s work together to improve education and stop criminalisation. Let’s rise together.
Steve (@PatchworkSteve on twitter)