It’s been 383 days since I first addressed HIV-criminalization through telling my personal story in public. And personal it was!
Looking back, I can easily see how I been trying to transform my personal experience with the law into a general advocacy against HIV-criminalization. Only partly successful, I would say. Because despite my efforts, the “international HIV-decriminalization movement” seems to need me more as a “poster boy” than a political advocate. And maybe they’re right? After all, there are a lot more skilled HIV advocates than there are people living with HIV who wants to share their meeting with the law.
Back then, I decided to tell my story because I believed there would be a lot of others out there with similar experiences or at least living in terror of ending up with one. By sharing I thought I would put a missing face to the pressure a lot of people living with HIV probably must feel. I was not entirely wrong. Even though I also encountered people living with HIV who was less grateful. Some feels that me going public made their sexual life more difficult. Before they red my story, they had no idea how vulnerable they are in front of the law. Now that they know, they do feel fear and this has inflicted negatively on their sexual life.
There is a time for fighting and a time for reflecting.
I don’t even know how to explain what amount of energy it takes to prepare yourself mentally for an upcoming trial. I only know a few people in this world who share that experience with me. Having my case postponed, no matter what reasons, made me realize a few things.
Getting ready to finally defend myself in court, was like blowing air into a balloon. Loosing that opportunity in front of my nose, having it postponed, was like putting a needle to it. Afterward I felt like one of those used condoms on the sidewalk. Someone obviously had a good time with it, but no one cared to pick it up.
I mistakenly thought that being prosecuted at least meant I had the prosecutors attention. So was not the case I experienced one week before the trial was about to start.
I should probably not patronize the opponent in my own trial and for what I now this might be common, but there is a point to it. At least from my perspective as prosecuted in a highly disputable case like mine.
Reading the Norwegian governmental appointed law-commission’s recommendation, this October, on how to continue to to criminalize people with HIV more or less the same way as we do today, called for a long period of reflection.
Their arguments dismisses recommendations from organizations like UNAIDS and WHO on decriminalizing risk of transmission, based on poor empirical and evidence based material. At the same time they argue in favor of their own recommendation that it’s in compliance to peoples general feeling of justice and that using general laws instead of specific ones would make it to hard to convict HIV “criminals”, due to the stricter rules of evidence.
This confirms an already existing suspicion of mine. The battle is as much a fight about a cultural way of thinking, as it is about empirical and evidence based research. Unfortunately this makes me less optimistic. I believe it to be more difficult to change politics based on cultural conservatism, than politics purely based on the best science and experience available at the time.
Getting crazy ideas?
Putting it all together, sometimes gives me a “crazy” idea. If my experiences and conclusions are even remotely correct? That is; being a person living with HIV risking to be subjected to a criminal law, either your saliva is considered a weapon of terror (USA) or conducting “safer sex” recommended to you by public services (Norway, Austria). You have to accept that the legal system lives a life of its own, sometimes difficult to predict and understand. Sometimes not even logical to the average man and woman. Therefor you are definitely best of avoiding it.
The obvious answer to that advice, is of course to act accordingly to the criminal laws. But for people living with HIV, that’s easier said than done. I believe there are enough examples by now, to prove that the legal systems in several countries, are quite unreliable when it comes to HIV. So, why don’t we educate people with HIV to prepare themselves to avoid any unnecessary encounter with it. By suggesting that, I am not defending intentional transmission of the virus. I am merely stating that the recommendations from both leading organizations and scientific communities are yet to be incorporated in some of your legal systems, and that we should not be paying the prize for that.
With my knowledge and experience today, I don’t believe I will ever find myself in the same situation again. Not because I’ll promise to never let anyone suck my dick without a condom (I will of course patiently wait until the Norwegian parliament adopts the newly recommended law and then bring my Saturday night date down to the emergency, to get the demanded healthcare approval that my date is sane and aware of the risk. First then let him go down on me). But because I simply would have known that giving a statement to the police, at all, gave the prosecutor the one sentence they needed to indict me. Instead I should probably have used my legal rights to not give a statement, leaving it to the police and prosecutor to prove my “criminal” actions. I think they would had a hard time finding a witness in that bedroom?
It’s necessary to fight politically to change obstacles that’s making it harder to live with HIV. Even if it takes a lot of time. But imagine what a great present it could be to people with HIV, if those of us with the experience and knowledge would care to share it in public. Giving both general and specific advices about what to do and not to do to avoid any unnecessary contact with criminal laws. And if you are unfortunate enough to be subjected to any of those laws in your own country, have a place to seek out first hand experiences and advices. Maybe that have would provided some kind of consolation and security, while we all are waiting for our respective countries to reach the inevitable conclusion. HIV-criminalization is not helping anyone in the end.