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