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February 7th, 2012

HIV Criminalization Face-Off: One Poz Man and His Accuser

What if you could witness a face-to-face confrontation between a man living with HIV and the sex partner accusing him of not revealing his status? Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on that wall? The fireworks could be mighty, as emotions raged between the furious accuser and the positive person trying to defend his actions. What might that meeting look like, exactly?

In this video, you’re about to find out.

Amidst the highly charged emotions of the HIV criminalization debate, “sides” are developing. One side believes that those with HIV who do not tell their sex partners about their status should go to jail. Period. But others claim that there is little public health benefit to laws against non-disclosure because they discourage people from getting tested – you can’t be prosecuted if you don’t know your status — and there are often prosecutions in which the risk of transmission is remote or even non-existent.

But taking firmly entrenched sides helps no one. We’ve simply got to get educated beyond our gut reactions to these prosecutions. We all could use more understanding about HIV criminalization laws, how they are being applied, and whether or not they are truly serving the public good. It’s also important that we understand the anger of those who feel they were put at risk and are seeking retribution.

A full list of HIV criminalization laws – and convictions globally (including for each of the states of the USA ) can be found at http://www.gnpplus.net/criminalisation/. To find multiple resources on what to do if one is at risk of prosecution, who to call for help, what the law is in every state, or get palm cards with links to resources, visit The Positive Justice Project.

Mark vs MarkBut back to the video: I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if an HIV positive man had to sit down with his accuser and explain himself. So, through the magic of some creative editing, I produced this video episode of “My Fabulous Disease” to give a voice to the opinions and feelings of both parties. You can decide if I was successful.

I used this editing technique to comic effect in the “My T-cells Could Use a Facelift” episode (the infamous video about butt padding, among other things). I’ve been looking for a good reason to do it again, and I thought this topic fit the format perfectly.

Thanks for watching, and please be well.

Mark

(I’m always glad when you “share” my postings with the buttons below. But this post could mean the difference between someone understanding the law — and making a mistake that could land them in jail. So I encourage you to share and re-post this one in particular. Thanks.)

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23 Responses to “HIV Criminalization Face-Off: One Poz Man and His Accuser”

  1. Penny Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 11:27 am

    The man that infected me did it intentionally, fully knowing how long he had it and didn’t stop there. He fabricated his results via computer imaging & told others I was lying. He died of AIDS Jan. 21, 2012. Now there is a chain of victims, both male & female. I filed charges against him in Mexico but it never went very far because I could not return there to pursue it. He started his own epidemic and it’s safe to say at least 70 people now have it. But it is another country and education and medical resources are lacking to say the least. Do I think he should of went to jail? Yes. He was a coward & because he was sick he wanted others to suffer. No matter how you look at it, if someone intentionally infects others it is attempted murder. Period.

  2. Marc Paige Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 11:33 am

    RAPE is the only time that the presence of HIV should provide additional criminal penalties. In consensual sex, there is no crime. It is CONSENSUAL. Bottom line – use condoms in relationships that are not monogamous, where both partners are negative.

  3. michèle meyer Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    thank you so much, mark!

  4. Brian Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    WOW!!! That was amazing! So well done. I’m continually impressed by the things you write about and bring light to. Thanks so much for all you do. This video is exactually how it would play out in a real converstion-Bravo!

  5. Don Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to portray this very complex issue in a very thoughtful manner. Bravo Mark

  6. Joe T Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Brilliant! Informative and just thought-provoking! I was angry and waiting for the bearded you to take responsibility for not asking about your status! It is not just our responsibility! And was blown away by how many states have those F*cked up and homophobic/racist/Ole Boys club laws that like you said ..Don’t give a @#*! about us! I had a similar experience with a guy that before we took it to the sexual level I disclosed….he asked me why I ruined it by telling him and left…..he did call me back the next day and thanked me for being honest….I really hope you spread this around…it hits all topics from both sides and shows that government should not have anything to do with our sexual behavior unless it does prove to be life threatening (someone intentionally having unsafe sex with someone and not protecting or disclosing their status. Anyone having sex should should ask questions and assume the other person is POZ or could be, the responsibility is on both parties……!
    I am blown away by this and well a bit angry that once again we are being prosecuted!
    Hugs and Pride,
    Joe

  7. Micheal Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I particularly like how you pointed out the science and the homophobia “hidden” in the laws.

  8. Bobby Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Mark,
    This is possibly your best and most important work to date. After attending a community forum on this issue last night in Shreveport, I can truely say that this summed it up so precisely and clearly in a short presentation. GREAT WORK!!!
    Bobby

  9. Bobby Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    TRULY!!!

  10. Brett Malone Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    EXCELLENT!!!

    Keep on keepin’ on, Mark!

  11. Steve Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    This is very powerful. Especially at the end. I am experiencing this right now. Except in my case I disclosed my status from the get-go. In my case, I’ve had a partner who I told my status to the day I was diagnosed in November 2010, and he initiated anal BB sex that same day with me and we continued having sex without a condom regularly (he’s the top) for weeks after. All while I was not even on meds. I ended up leaving the state and didn’t see him for about a year. Just a few weeks ago, I came back to San Francisco and we began having sex again. By now I’ve been undetectable for 7 months. We still had BB sex. The 1st night that I was back he told me that he was worried that he had HIV – of course not from me since he had tested negative several months since our last intercourse. Soon after I moved back however his attitude started to change. We ended up having a falling out in the course of the last few weeks since i’ve been back. Just yesterday he sent me a text saying he tested positive. Should I be worried? I had disclosed, and am undetectable, and he was fully aware about my status. In fact he knew the reason I came back to SF was to get screened for a cure study here. Now he won’t respond to my texts or calls and I’m worried that he’ll seek his vengence on me, even though he must know I couldn’t have been the one who infected him. I feel like I’m being victimized by being honest. I’m the easy target since he probably has no idea who infected him but since he knows I’m poz and has had sex with me, he can just direct his blame on me. I feel sorry for him but am also angry at him for using me like this – taking advantage of my vulnerability by convincing me to move in with him when he knew he was worried about having been infected in the year that we hadn’t seen each other and then timed his getting tested to coincide with my return and after he had initiated sex with me again. I repeat, he said he was worried that he had HIV the day i came back to SF before we even had sex again. So he chooses to get tested within days of my return to SF following his inviting me to live with him… which now seems suspicious. How can I know that he can’t throw me in jail? What if he lies and says I didn’t disclose… Would I depend on phone records where I mentioned my status to him? I don’t even know how those could be retrieved. I told him my status but not his friends or many others. I feel so vulnerable, and it’s all becasue I was doing the honest and right thing – i didn’t infect him that’s a fact – yet I’m at risk of being put in jail because he might want someone to blame. Does anyone think I should be worried? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Mark, I’ve watched several of your videos on YT and can’t tell you enough how much they’ve helped me. Thank you for this amazing post!
    Steve
    Diagnosed at 24yo one year ago

  12. Nancy O. Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Mark,
    Thank you for this well done and important video. These are just the same arguments that people present to me each day in my prevention work. You have really helped by making both sides clearer. Personal responsibility has to be at the heart of sexuality and our lives. Both partners are responsible in each encounter. Thank you for showing BOTH sides.

    Peace,
    Nancy

  13. NE Rich Says:

    February 7th, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Back in the 80’s in the gay community, many of us used to say “we are all HIV Positive” .. this served two purposes, 1) to show solidarity we had as a tribe that was all in some way effected by HIV/AIDS and 2) to say you never know the true status of your partner so always practice safe sex.
    I fail to see why this concept should be any less relevant today than thirty years ago. Obviously the condition as changed monumentally since those days, even more reason that these stupid, draconian laws, much like 3 strikes drug laws, are pointless and unjust as well as unfairly discriminate.
    Rape can and should be prosecuted, consensual sex is CONSENSUAL.

  14. Subversive Librarian Says:

    February 8th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Mark, thanks for this great video. I really appreciated how balanced you were — that can’t have been easy. And your video editing was great, too. Positively seamless.

  15. Amadou Says:

    February 8th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    HEY, Excellent tool! This goes to our webpage too.
    Best,
    Amadou

  16. Triton Says:

    February 9th, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Very well done. This video should be provided with every positive test. I tested positive in 1987, a few weeks after spending the weekend at a “party” (more like an old 1980’s orgy) at a friend’s beach house. I contracted HepB and found out that way. At the time, I had been out of college about 3 years and was working my way up the corporate ladder at an insurance company. When I found out, I was devastated and through someone from work that I would run into at happy hour occasionally, told my assistant that he heard I had AIDS. In a matter of days, I was called into the Sr. VP’s office where a human resources rep., my staff’s team leader, and my immediate supervisor, Sr. VP of Marketing. They said they heard I had AIDS and out of concern for others they had no choice but to terminate me. Of course, this only added to the pain that I was already suffering and at that moment in time, I didn’t know of a day any darker. After a few weeks drinking the problems away, I got a grip and went to work for the Federal Gov’t in a civilian position, The FDIC. I kept my secret from everyone and since about 60% of my time was traveling, I made sure I stayed at Hotels other than the one’s that my co-workers were staying just in case I met someone. For the next several years, I only dated HIV+ people except for an occasional visit to the Bath house, where rarely words were ever exchanged. I eventually met someone at happy hour and with full disclosure became involved in a relationship, based on his word that he was poz as well. When I first tested positive, I found a doctor and started healthcare immediately, which was basically just doing labs and treating individual ailments at that time. Since he never went to a dr. and took no meds, I persuaded him to go with me to my dr. The next 2 weeks were uneventful and then we went as a couple to the dr. and to my shock, he tested negative. He had never been tested and this was 2004. For some reason, I felt betrayed, insulted, angry, hurt, confused and most any other negative feelings you can imagine. I finally, after a couple of weeks of just existing, very little communication and sleeping in separate rooms, I called movers and I left, leaving my ill feelings behind. I moved to another place in the neighborhood because it was my hometown, I loved the neighborhood and enjoyed living near the water. I would occasionally run into him around town and he would never speak or even acknowledge that I existed. After a month or so of hating life, I snapped out of it and got my life back together. I went on with my life and everytime I saw him, he looked worse and worse. To my total shock, I got a call from a mutual friend and found out that he had been arrested, while we were still together, but I was out of town. He went to court and was in the state prison for over 2 years, nothing related to HIV, it was drug related. I have met my share of people who are careless and didn’t care if they caught this lovely disease, but always on my part was full disclosure and safe sex. Since the summer of 2004, I have been single and celibate. I have been hurt on both sides of the coin. I contracted HIV from someone who was positive and also, lived with a man for several years believing he was positive. I am now living in another city, much smaller than before and practically every day I have to face the fact that I am HIV+, single and living in small town America and only have one gay friend, much less a partner. I have been undetectible since 2003 and very few problems. I was so scarred from the betrayal of not receiving an honest answer from my former partner that I find it hard to trust that I will get an honest answer about status and have made little effort to meet anyone. It has been long enough now and I have beat myself up long enough, I’m ready to get back out there, but now, the whole gay world has changed since I was a part of it. In May of 2012, I will have been positive for 25 years, which puts me at half my life with HIV/AIDS, when I turn 50 in July. I will close my story with my advice to today’s generation of potential HIV patients. Always, and I mean ALWAYS assume the person you have sex with is positive and protect yourself by practicing safe sex since there are many opportunistic diseases that can be spread easily with casual unprotected sex. As bad as this sounds, it is not all that bad, but you owe it to youself and your potential partner to be the proactive morally intact person. If you can’t admit to others that you have a disease, it very likely would never become more than a casual date and those are so unsatisfying at this time in my life. My only issue now is how does a positive man meet other positve people. We must accept that our resources are much less than those of a negative person. I have planned the remainder of this year to pursuing positive friendships or more with positive people. By the way, being positive is not a terrible thing. Yes it’s not what I ever thought of when I spent 6 years in college, but finally at this point in my life, I am emotionally stable and physically as healthy as I can be, outside of a few orthopedic issues. Have fun, meet people, but in my opinion, everything works out better all around for 100% full disclosure on both parts and if there’s doubt at least you have a condom in your nightstand or don’t have sex. I hope someone can benefit from this rambling post, and as we all know, it is very possible to live a full and healthy life with testing, treatment and full disclosure.

  17. Bob Says:

    February 9th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wow. Mark. Extremely well written and presented. And the actors are great! Thanks for such a thoughtful take on such an emotionally-charged issue.

  18. Jeton Ademaj Says:

    February 11th, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    i sometimes wonder what world some of u live in. the portrayal of the angry hiv- partner was patronizing…i challenge u to post it in less regulated and less politically-correct general interest venues online, and see what the mass of responses looks like. for all the laudable and viable goals of the hiv-decriminalization effort, i’m left to cringe at the decision to include defense of non-disclosure in the effort. outside the HIV community, there’s no constituency for it. the arguments made in defense of non-disclosure carry far less weight out there…in fact, even those arguments feed into further HIV hysteria!

    i hope Sean Strub’s film project results in something more powerful and less immersed in echo-chamber politics than this piece.

    i’m a fan of ur vblog, n i applaud the energy n effort put into this…but i can’t applaud one of the portrayals as scripted or acted. when it comes to the political viability of decriminalizing non-disclosure of one’s hiv-positive status, this portrayal was a mythologically watered-down version of what’s waiting to confront our community on this issue in the wider political arena. it’s low-hanging fruit for the right-wing. if our community can’t craft an argument for disclosure-decriminalization far more persuasive than any publicly offered thus far (including mantrically repeating “take the test and risk arrest!!!”), then not only will that particular effort fail…

    …it will also tank the effort of HIV-decriminalization in general. among other horrors, that means a continuation of the ad hoc loss of an hiv+ person’s constitutional rights…from being presumed innocent to receiving equal treatment, etc etc.

    all this as the criminalization of HIV in the US and worldwide continues to *accelerate*.

    i really hope someone does some in depth random public polling on this issue b4 any major publicity is undertaken…seriously!

  19. Andy Fyne Says:

    February 24th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I think I have to take your side on this discussion.

    All humor aside, this was a perfect synopsis of the controversial issue. And by the way, you are an amazing actor.

  20. Claude Wynne Says:

    March 2nd, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Jeton has a good point. Many of these laws are awful and need to be at least radically changed. I used to think that most were like CA which makes an exception if the HIV+ person uses a condom but I recently read that CA is only one of 2 that does.

    But Jeton is right that outside the HIV community, there is no constituency for defense of non-disclosure. It’s great you are willing to debate yourself but are you willing to have a vigorous discussion with someone else? If so, I would love to engage with you.

    The real issue for me is the wide acceptance of bareback sex in our community. Steve, would it really kill you to insist on condoms when having sex with men who are not positive? You still have a virus that CAN kill someone or at the very least cause them to have to take expensive medications with serious side effects for the rest of their life. The medications themselves can cause premature aging and even death. HIV+ people are twice as likely to have a heart attack. That is nothing to play around with. Even if someone does “consent.”

    I’m reminded of the line from The Boys in the Band. “If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so very much.” The more things change, the more they remain the same. If we didn’t hate ourselves so much we wouldn’t treat ourselves or our sexual partners as “cum dumps” to be used and thrown away without regard to any life-altering consequences that may result.

  21. Jeton Ademaj Says:

    March 11th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Claude, we diverge sharply…i freely and openly inform all and sundry of my HIV+ status (including all sexual partners), I bareback whosoever i choose that also chooses me, and i make no pretense of determining their status. serosorting does NOT effectively prevent HIV-transmission, as it is only really “sero-guessing” . guessing when it comes to HIV- people limiting themselves to HIV- partners, and guessing when it comes to HIV+ people limiting themselves to HIV+ partners.

    why? becuz it turns out that both bugchasing and simply being desperate to snag a partner r more common behaviors than is generally acknowledged.

    i abandoned serosorting as unreliable early in 2008, and only weeks later came the Swiss Statement. while the gist of it has been argued and modified slightly, the overall thrust remains: consistently undetectable viral loads and chemoprophylaxis WORK. this Truth is the basis of most new prevention modalities.

    condoms suck, and all the sanctimony that activism can muster (including that which i have seen u publicly level at the CumUnion parties even as u oh-so-hypocritically ATTEND them!) will not change that fact. furthermore, condoms were only ever reducers of risk, NOT eliminators of it…now there r new modalities of prevention that bring greater risk to my health (heavy medications) in exchange for the VASTLY greater rewards of condomless sex AND prevention of infection. for some the difference is between raw n rubber is minor, for others like myself, it is the difference between the Real Deal and a pathetic, shabby simulation.

    u have made it explicitly clear in other forums that u feel the same, AND that u need the Government to save u from urself and this feeling u have…but u presume to patronize myself and my partners with the same Big Brother u feel *u* need.

    Natural sex is a natural, basic urge…a far more eternal and reliable urge than rubber-sex. it should have ALWAYS been the job of prevention activists to find a way to protect natural sex from HIV, not demonize it along with HIV.

    while all the pent-up self-hatred of sanctimonious activists like urself has FAILed to diminish the eternal urge for natural sex, what ur type HAS succeeded in doing is that u’ve demonized it for many. guess what? now there’s a larger-than-widely-credited sexual underground of people who fetishize the virus itself, bcuz they’ve bought the lie that natural sex and hiv go together…some even take the demonization literally. google at will.

    fuck that. my partners and myself r consenting adults making informed choices, with ending results proving to be less infectious than the Rubber-Sex Religion…a phrase i mean literally. on the poz.com forums, many r so invested in NOT disclosing that they’ve taken to declaring sex-with-condoms to be ZERO RISK (not low or lower-risk)…which is of course a complete lie. condoms have indeed become articles of Faith, whereas Science has only started to provide better solutions.

    here’s a link to consider:

    http://www.who.int/hiv/events/artprevention/garnett.pdf

    the point of this blog (and the issue i took with it) is DISCLOSURE, by which we respect our partners to make their own INFORMED choices.

    HIV- people need HIV+ partners to be honest and up front about their serostatus, NOT patronizing, condescending and transparently self-interested, using lines like “but if i’m REQUIRED to tell u, that just gives u a false sense of security” to weasel out of that responsibility.

    All people need to recognize that natural sex is here to stay, and to find ways of facilitating the expression of it without facilitating the spread of infections.

    for some (poz or neg) that means condoms, for some (poz or neg) it means chemoprophylaxis, for some (poz or neg) it means both…no single option can work universally.

    Regardless of what any HIV-experts say (with skewed logic), fighting against the legal requirement of disclosure will only increase HIV-stigma. more stigma means more infections, less testing, less medication adherence, less condoms used…and more infections. As it is, HIV+ people r often illegally treated as presumed guilty of nondisclosure from the get-go…having the organized HIV-community making a focused effort to decriminalize such non-disclosure will only underline the collective presumption of guilt, and i remain horrified that so many HIV+ people fail to see that.

    however, beware “activists” who cavalierly presume to thwart or redirect human nature. Claude, i will bareback forever, i will always tell my partners of my status b4hand, and i promise u will have no effect on either of these decisions. i know it’s a power u wish u had, and ur still trying to attain.

    someday u urself will have to come to real terms with ur profound inner conflicts, about having raw sex urself at bareback parties, andd about trying to make urself a national figure by fighting those same parties.

    ur hypocrisy is not a badge of honor, only a facet of ur humanity…and yet u don’t seem to notice that it limits ur credibility on the issue off natural sex.

  22. Peter Pappa Says:

    June 27th, 2012 at 7:02 am

    This is bullshit propaganda. What a stupid video. How dare you dance around the raw reality of tops that infect bottoms on purpose and even lie about their status. When a guy gets topped by a poz guy raw, he bears no responsibility. When a top penetrates a poz bottom, he has no responsibility. The positive person is the criminal. Stop the denial in the gay community. HIV is a death sentence and it is the responsibility of the person who has it to disclose. This is the only disease of its kind for which there has been no quarantine. So all your spooky homophobia bullshit is off base. Not guilty does not mean innocent. And some laws–and states–need some modifications. However, what you are avoiding is the real topic. If someone is HIV and knowingly has unprotected sex, they should face prosecution. Not only is there a subculture of mentally unhappy men who chose to chase the bug or give it to someone, there is also a subgroup of positive men and women who hope to infect others. These people need to be stoned.

    (Oh my. “The positive person is the criminal.” “HIV is a death sentence…” “The only disease of its kind (really?) for which there has been no quarantine.” Jesse Helms couldn’t have said it better himself. I’ll just let the unbridled ignorance of those remarks speak for itself. p.s. I was stoned for years, and it didn’t help a bit! — Mark)

  23. Elizabeth Ely Says:

    December 26th, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Hi Mark, and congratulations for your brutally honest and well-written Web site. Coming from me, that’s quite a compliment.

    You talk about two entrenched sides. Well, nothing gets solved with that, does it? It can’t. And you can’t help actual defendants with that face-off, either.

    But one group is *successfully* defending people facing these charges. It’s called the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice. For instance, read Yvonne Andrews’ story. It’s quite shocking, how just a single accusation can set a person on the path to a lifetime in prison. Let me know what you think of this: http://www.omsj.org/authors/ynandrews. Be sure to click through to the “full report” for more information about the legal strategy used, a strategy which I believe respects both suspect and alleged victim.

    It’s all part of the OMSJ’s HIV Innocence Group, which your readers can check out at http://www.omsj.org/innocence-group. Who knows? Knowing about this group’s work could save someone’s life. I hope you’ll spread the word, and you can contact me through the e-mail address I gave if you would like to strike up a discussion, a friendship, a sharing of resources.

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