HIV Criminalization hits home for me.
Disclosing your status is very important. The laws in different states can be very tough when you don’t disclose to your partner. Have you seen the film “HIV IS NOT A CRIME” by The SERO Project? If you haven’t already I must say it’s definitely a must see film. I am also in this film talking about my experience with nondisclosure. A year after my diagnosis I was still in shock and disbelief overall about my HIV status. While serving my country in the Army I was only given a paper statement that I had to sign stating to disclose if I ever have unprotected sex. However, that was it, not knowing I would even face a sexual experience freshly after finding out my status. Nobody had support groups where they help educate you about the importance of disclosure and what can and can’t happen if you don’t disclose. I moved on with my life and I was trying to be a good Mother for my 3 boys in the midst of the emotional hurt I was yet battling inside.
During that time, I didn’t think I would be involved in a relationship or anyone would even want any dealings with me. Well of course someone did want to be involved because he saw me as a lady who deserved to be treated good. I was confused and overall afraid of what this person would feel or think about me if I told him that I was HIV positive. The night he decided to come by for dinner things got heated. I kept backing off and trying to not even allow anything to happen. I remember stressing the word “CONDOM” but it apparently went through one of his ears and out the other. He avoided using a condom after I said put a condom on. I said it numerous of times but was so afraid to disclose that one thing lead to another and we did end up having unprotected sex. How many others has this happened to, you know things get heated and you end up having sex? While my brain was all over the place and I wanted him to just leave afterwards, I was so upset at myself for what I did. To make the long story short, the Military police found out because he told someone about our night and the person he told knew my status so they reported it. I was put on trial and if convicted I would have been locked up 8 to 12 years. My partner at that time did not get the virus and his testimony in the court was he too was responsible for his own actions that night. He even stated he didn’t see me as trying to intentionally harm him but that I simply was someone who was just scared of the outcome with our relationship if I had disclosed. Thank goodness all my charges were dropped after back and forth statements, testimonies from different people that knew me and even from my doctor.
I say all this to say I wish HIV Criminalization education was going on back then for me and that the military had support groups, etc. I also say this to say many sit in judgement and the first thing they say to the ones who don’t disclose is that we deserve to be locked up and throw the keys away. Now let me say yes, yes, if someone is intentionally trying to harm their partner or everyone they sleep with because of their own ignorance and stupidity, by all means they need to be punished because that is not right or fair. I believe this whole nondisclosure can be taken out of content, each individual has their own experience and some may be like me back then. How does one disclose? What are the right words? I wish I could have turned back time and yes, what I now know today I would have definitely not been ashamed and disclosed my status. I also know now that even though I could have been punished, so could have my chain of command in the Army because my privacy was also invaded by them sharing my HIV status to so many individuals during the time of my trial.
HIV Criminalization is very important. The laws need to be changed because most are outdated. So much has improved with HIV. When I was on trial even the lawyers, judge, police force knew so little about HIV. We need to educate everyone about HIV and what’s safe and not safe to do. Disclosure can be tough if you don’t have that support or anyone telling you what can and can’t happen if you don’t disclose.
Many people who point the finger and say lock us up because that’s what we deserve are the same ones who never even first walked in my shoes. They were never put into a situation where it was tough to disclose. If you’re not open about your status the challenge can be challenging. But this experience only allowed me to have confidence within myself and you best to believe now, with every partner after that situation, I was happy to disclose. Why? Because now I am educated and I also learned that if someone don’t accept me for who I am then they are not for me. I was afraid, embarrassed back then. My heart was far from trying to purposely harm someone. I’m forever Blessed that the charges were dropped because if they were not dropped I would have been a sex offender and also it would have shown on my driver license - just for nondisclosure that “one time”. I couldn’t even imagine being labeled as such. I couldn’t imagine not getting a good job to support my Boys because I would have been labeled. I count my Blessings every day.
You may not agree, but I know who I am, I know I’m not this horrible person that is trying to harm the next person. We all must take control over our lives and be responsible. I do agree each state needs to have laws changed and dig deeper. Nondisclosure is never ok when you’re about to have sex with someone who is negative, however with support groups and more awareness, we can help those who are afraid to disclose. I didn’t have all this, I just felt like an awful person the whole time. I do not go around telling people it’s ok to not disclose, no, hear my heart. I’m saying because of my own personal experience now I can stand with my head held high regardless of the negativity and share my testimony to help others know that if you don’t disclose it can mean big trouble and that you should never be afraid of who you are. I share my experience to help enlighten everyone that I didn’t disclose but it wasn’t intentionally. Even other women who are HIV Positive have a hard time to disclose because of fears that their partner will leave them, domestic violence occurs, their job, and children... Many are afraid of the possible outcome if they disclose. I am here to say ladies don’t be afraid and always be honest. Someone will come into your life and love you and accept you for who you are inside and out. After my experience it’s so much easier to disclose my status now, I feel like a burden was lifted.
Get with your HIV organizations in your communities. Learn about HIV Criminalization. Do you think the laws are fair? What do you honestly think a person deserves? What about the many STDs that people don’t disclose when having sex? What’s the difference? When on treatment HIV transmission rate is low. Yes, back then I had an undectable viral load and was on treatment. I still am undectable and on treatment. Living my life and doing great! Had I been charged from that “one time” experience of nondisclosure I would not have seen my handsome boys grow up and my dreams would have never come true. Intentionally, yes the person needs punishment because they are angry within themselves and trying to harm others. However, when you just didn’t know the right words to use and have fear of rejection like I did, is taking my kids from me and being locked up fair?? Today I even educate my Boys about HIV. Today I talk about the importance of Disclosing but I’m freely about to do so because of the support and education I now have.
I’m excited to be attending HIV IS NOT A CRIME ll Training Academy next week in Huntsville, AL. Knowledge is power. When you don’t know or have never been faced full force with things that you never thought would happen to you, it can be challenging, can be tough. So next time you feel every person who doesn’t disclose deserves literally no life, I ask that you take a step back and listen to the whole piece of the story. Are you willing yourself to empower and educate yourself about HIV Criminalization or would you just rather say we deserve what’s coming to us because you fail to also dig a little deeper? I encourage you to watch the film and help us get these laws changed because even when someone does disclose and is honest, the laws still again don’t match up with even “disclosing”. Lack of education - nobody wants to take the time to research and dig deeper - they just rather sit on their do nothing and prejudge before digging deeper into the whole situation at hand. The laws are ridiculous and stigma makes it no better.
I love the skin I am in. I know without a doubt that my intention that day wasn’t to harm anyone. That’s not even my character, and definitely not who I am as a person. We need to think outside the box and when nondisclosure is done intentionally then yes, put the charge that matches the crime at hand. Everyone, be responsible. Don’t always think the person you’re with is being honest. You must also be responsible.
HIV is not a crime.