What Does World Aids Day mean to me? The personal cost of the criminalisation of HIV.
I can lead a happy, fulfilling and healthy life with HIV. Facing discrimination, hate and other people’s fear, however, chips away at the quality of my life. But that is the thing. HIV does not discriminate. People do.
Appearance wise, I do not fit the stereotypical image of someone who is living with HIV. By virtue of parentage, I, for one, am blonde, 5ft 9. and athletic. I am also educated to doctorate level and prefer the finer things in life. In stark contract, when we give HIV a face, when we imagine what it looks like, we often conjure up a persona of African descent. If white European is the order of the day, the face of HIV tends to be of a prostitute woman strung out on intravenous drugs.
Do such stereotypes apply to any other medical condition? Of course not.
We have years of misrepresentation by the media, clueless politicians and ignorant judges to thank for this discriminatory imagery in the UK. Printed word after media coverage after court judgment has contorted and twisted our fears about a chronic medical condition and bestowed this fragile virus with the power of a dangerous weapon. Nothing could be further from the truth. HIV is fragile and it is hard to sexually transmit.
In such a climate of institutional HIV discrimination, there is little room for rational dialogue, which gives rise to compassionate understanding of those people living with the syndrome, of how we treat HIV, and prevent its transmission. Rational thought and understanding are essential for public health. In the UK, a person either needs to be brave or mad to have a HIV test, knowing all too well that if the result returns positive, what lies ahead of them is a life of vile discrimination and possibly imprisonment if an ex-partner has a grudge.
What we need around HIV is calm dialogue.
I have endured for more than one year a false allegation and the ensuing criminal investigation. The vexatious allegation goes something like this,
‘Claire tried to deliberately infect me with HIV.’
The complainant is HIV-negative. Despite supplying ample medical information to the Metropolitan Police and the CPS, conclusively demonstrating that I adhere to HAART and have an undetectable viral load, meaning I am not infectious, I am still awaiting a charging decision to determine whether I will be prosecuted, with up to eight years imprisonment. Have I mentioned that I am a lone mother to a two year old child?
I am being investigated under a Victorian piece of legislation, brought out of obscurity to specifically target people living with HIV in England and Wales. The false allegation was made by someone I once loved very much. He is not happy with me, you could even say that he is angry with me. In normal, everyday situations, people talk, like rational adults. In my case, the man walked into a police station and accused me of trying to infect him with HIV. A false allegation, which has completely destroyed the life, which I had, and irreparably damaged the life of his own child.
Of course, when someone makes this type of vexatious allegation, they do not do so in isolation. The person complaining bounces the idea off others; family, friends, sexual partners, lovers, associates, lawyers, whoever will listen and endorse their decision, until the idea gains such momentum that the urgency to walk into a police station to cry wolf is simply overwhelming. The culture that surrounds HIV, is one of blame, hostility and a tragic desire to segregate and punish those living with the syndrome.
Perpetuating such words, ‘Claire tried to infect me with HIV’ amounts to defamation of the worst possible kind. The person on the receiving end is having their human and civil rights attacked on both a social and legal level, which has far reaching consequences that overturn and damage each and every quarter of their life.
Over the past year, many of the facets associated with discrimination are ones that I am experiencing, which are also exerting catastrophic waves of destruction over my child’s life.
The allegation has decimated my working and professional life. The loss of earnings are high and have forced my child and I into severe poverty. In essence, the allegation took away from me the tools to support my child financially, forcing me into a position where I could only buy food, children’s clothing and pay for other essentials on a credit card. That option has now expired. Everything has a limit. One family member is now supplying us with food, not charity, but an act of kindness that needs repaying in cash at some point in the not too distant future.
The impact upon my career has been devastating; it is now unlikely that I will ever work again in my chosen profession. Indeed, the person who made the allegation also took away my clean enhanced CRB, with colossal ramifications on a personal, career and financial level.
I have not commented upon the emotional and psychological damage that has been caused. I could say, ‘let’s not go there’ because it is such a dark place to comment upon. Too true. I have lived 13 months with the gripping fear that should I be prosecuted for a crime that I have not committed, my child will be snatched from me by social services.
I could comment upon the depression or the severe deep emotional scares which the allegation has left me with. Or I could comment upon the fear of knowing my career has been ruined and I will never probably earn a decent salary ever again to give my child and I a financially secure future. Maybe I ought to leave it there and not pass comment on the real fear and anxiety that my two year old child and I will never escape the risk of HIV discrimination, hate crime, harassment and stigma.
I have recently been forced into naming myself as a woman living with HIV on account of the false allegation, the defamation and the HIV harassment. That now means that not only am I at heightened risk of rejection, further harassment, discrimination and hate crime, but so too is my small child. HIV by association is a situation where those close to people living with HIV are at a higher than normal risk of experiencing the harms of HIV stigma. That now means that I have the terrifying worry that my beautiful child now faces a childhood of rejection and bullying on account of my medical condition. How does one quantify that reality?
I know that on World Aids Day, I will be caring for my small child, while the CPS have still not made a decision to prosecute me with up to eight years imprisonment.
This article previously appeared on the blog of girlwithhiv here.