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‘Nadja Benaissa, a singer from German girl band No Angels has admitted to having unprotected sex with several partners without warning them she was HIV-positive.’ Reports today the BBC.

Journalism needs to be matter of fact. I suppose this sentence is fair reporting. It’s the BBC after all.

A video shows Nadja entering the court room, a nervous smile, her hands clutching the chair as in search of some form of security. It must be crucifying to be judged for such a crime. Almost like being a rapist.

Nadja was diagnosed with HIV in 1999.  She was 17 and pregnant.

Now, over ten years later, she has been accused of grievously body harm and attempted grievously body harm. This is because between 2000 and 2004, the years immediately following her diagnosis, she slept with three men, without disclosing she was HIV positive and without using a condom.  One of the men has since become HIV positive.

For those of us who are quick to say: how could she? I would like to ask a few questions: could you imagine finding out you are pregnant, and that you also have HIV, at 17? Can you imagine the fear that you could possibly infect the baby, and the anxiety that the medications you need to take in order to prevent the transmission may harm you and the baby? Can you imagine the fear for your own self of dying a horrible and shameful death? How would you tell your partner, or your ex, or the person you are hoping to have a relationship with? And what could the consequences be?

It is not surprising that many HIV+ women’s networks such as ICW and PozFem UK have actually made recommendations to test women before they get pregnant, and not just use us as easy targets for public health interventions.

Nadja’s case has been given a lot of publicity. She was arrested in the limelight,  before a gig,  February last year,  and spent 10 days in prison before being released on demand. She is a pop star, and a black woman whose success has been very much based on her exotic physical appearance and sexual appeal.  The sexist and racist dimension of this story rings alarm bells. Why are we pointing the finger at her, ready to condemn and constrain? What else is at stake? What needs to be controlled?

It is almost impossible to prove scientifically, beyond doubt, that somebody infected somebody else with HIV. But I think that the scientific argument is not the most important in this debate. It is the human argument that is crucial. It is the hard task of taking a deep look at the  complexities of how we relate to each other, especially when sex and emotions are at stake. It is about understanding how deeply HIV related stigma cripples relationships for all of us. How it still affects the ability to disclose and negotiate safe sex for the person who is HIV positive, especially a young woman, or just to bring up the subject, for the untested, or HIV negative partner.

I hope the jury will be able to put themselves in the shoes of  a newly diagnosed young woman. Being diagnosed with HIV is  a truely terrifying and paralyzing experience. To help them I would like to use the words of Esme, a PozFem member: “The shock was enormous. There were tears. I went terribly quiet and immediately retreated, withdrawing into a world that took me nearly five years to return from. Sometimes I feel as I still exist there. A place that is lonely, shameful, and damaged, where my own body is my enemy and the person I blame is myself’ (Positively Women Magazine 2008).

If Nadja will be found guilty of th charges she may face a 10 years sentence.

More detailed information and comments on Nadja ‘s case can be found on the excellent blog Criminal HIV Transmission by Edwin Bernard and in his article on The Guardian.

You can learn more on why criminal prosecution of HIV transmission harms women here.

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5 thoughts on “Solidarity with Nadja Benaissa

  1. I admit as I read this my first thought was indeed “how could she?” But then my thoughts changed swiftly when hearing how she herself found out she was a carrier. Now isn’t it funny that no-one offered her assistance in finding/telling or even chastising the MAN who infectes her! It’s always easy to blame a woman especially when she is of colour but what would the article have reads if the tables were turned. What if one of these three, supposedly innocent, men had been HIV+ after all why oh why did they choose not to use a condom? She has enough to contend with already at this young age so why not throw her into jail to make her feel even better about how her life has panned out. People love to bring those on top down with a huge bump!

  2. I just heard the news for the first time on a dutch news channel. I thought this is pretty bad, and what an ordeal this must be for her (off course also for the man you got it), how could she? Myself being HIV+, I can understand why she didn’t have safe sex. I found out 2 years ago, and, although at first you feel dirty and you promise yourself never to have sex again. The first few months, years, if you will, this kind of mental programming works. But then after all the healthy living, going to the gym 4/5 times a week and the medicine, the hormones take over again. They are saying to you, “your body is healthy, everything works like it should”, you actually start to belief that you do not have a disease. Your natural sexdrive is coming back, then it is really hard to not involve in flirting because you know it could never work out. It’s really hard to try to submerge these natural feelings. Because there’s such a huge stigma, and the fact that Nadja is a famous person, the public out cry (especially people who do not have a clue what it is living with this social-life-crippling-dissease) for punishment is extra loud. The blow in her stomach must be fierce. Off course I feel with this man being infected. But, for her being prosecuted like this, it’s like we have never left the middle ages. Who is going to prosecute the person who gave it to her. Who is going to prosecute the woman who gave it to me. These men should have been wiser and take out the protection themselves. Good luck Nadja

    I am here to support you

    Brendan

  3. Thank you Brendan and Allison for you comments and for showing solidarity to Nadja. You both make very good points that this is a very difficult situation for all of those involved, Nadja and the one man who is HIV +(the others are just taking her to court for exposure!).
    The fact is that two consenting adults who enter a sexual relationship should both be responsible for their own sexual health. Using the law to criminalize HIV only further stigmatize the virus and makes it harder to talk about it for everybody. HIV is a virus and not a crime. Furthermore criminalization implies that the responsbility is all of the HIV positive person, while each and everyone of us should be responsible for our own health. Some people think that using the law this way makes for good prevention. However this point of view overlooks the fact that in most European countries almost a third of people who are HIV+ are not aware of their status. How can you expect them to disclose? Until so much stigma surrounds HIV many people will resist testing. After all, if you do not know your status you can not be taken to court….

  4. Silvia
    I have been following Nadja Benaissa’s situation for some months now
    She is a friend on face-book and I have talked to her briefly and also I follow her situation online so I do what I can and in my own way – inadequate as it is ?

    Today all reading this all that has happened to her all I so want to do is cry??
    This is selfish , yes I agree my tears are so very selfish – I cry for me I guess???

    But my tears are also for her or any of us, and my tears are of course of no benefit to her or of course anyone else – or to any of us who may ever be in a simular stuation ….it is all such total injustice – we know that but who honestly listens to us??

    But I now know the score , Or I am begining to understand .
    I thank you so much Silvia and others at PozFem for your patience while I learned the realiies for us women living with HIV
    But despite my age I am a quick learner Silvia. I will learn quickly and get there even if I have only known I am HIV+ for only a couple of years and a whole lot less than most involved in PozFem
    But I have got it – finally I have got it and it is totally awful for you and so many .

    I now know so well what is is about to live with HIV and also many of the issues that may go with it – Including negotiating safe sex- or any sex at all – if you re HIV +

    Total damn nightmare isnt it ?
    Total crap really the whole thing – it is so too much to negociae
    I am not myself single right now and my husband has HIV too so I am not having to look at that right in the face right now
    But may well have to one day?? Or he will?

    And I now understand now very well how it is for so many single women of all of us who have HIV.#Crap basically
    Today with Nadja’s situation it just really got me – I am crying – god why? But it is so hard and so many issues just because me you and many others including Nadja Benaissa ……mostly though no significance difference from the rest of the population of the world- and all of us that live wth HIV- I cried today for us all.

    Maybe So total and utter rubbish isn’t it that I am upset ? – but I cry for us all.
    So awful it is really to much to comment on at times isn’t it ?Except when you are living it .
    So Brave that you try and continue to do what you do and campaign -so all I can say is good for you and i support you all the way

    love you Silvia – that is all I can say
    Love Veritee

  5. Dear Veritee,
    Thank you for your comment. I am sad to hear how upset you are. I think waht is happening to Nadia is awful but I am glad that this den=bate has moved to the public arena beacuse it is an opportunity to educate a lot of people.

    today there is an excellent comment on by Zoe Williams in the Guardian and this has lifted my spirit.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/18/hiv-nadja-benaissa-law?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments

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