The Nadja Benaissa story, HIV-positive status, and the need to hold our lines against sensationalism and backlash.

Nadja Benaissa, a German pop star who is HIV positive,  has just gone on trial in Germany for causing grevious bodily harm to an ex partner for having unprotected sex with him. The former lover is now HIV positive and claims it was Ms Benaissa who infected him. She is also facing charges of attempted bodily harm for allegedly having sex with two other men, who are not infected with the virus but claim she put them at risk (Oh straight men and unprotected sex, don’t they just love it). Of course, being a public figure, the media, especially the Gernan media,  have seized on the story in order to boost sales figures. The story first broke in April 2009 when she was arrested  just before giving a planned solo concert and held in custody, thereafter, for ten days. The trial is expected to be over by the end of the month.

Fortunately, there appear no ill-considered free ELT lesson plans concerning the issue out there on the net (none that we could find) but we thought it was an issue that might well surface in classes and was, therefore, in need of urgent context. In the latest BBC report, there had been two previous articles (in April 2009 and February 2000), they finally got round to mentioning:

“Aids campaigners were critical of the authorities’ handling of the arrest and warned against a rush to criminalise the transmission of HIV, the BBC’s Tristana Moore reports from Berlin.”

Remember it was AIDS camapaigners who fought and continue to fight against government neglect and inompetence in attempts to prevent the spread of the illness, so their views on this issue would be very important (further link and less academic here). This is what Tristina Moore reports:

According to prosecutors, Ms Benaissa knew she was HIV-positive as early as 1999.

A former lover, who is HIV-positive, has said the singer infected him in 2004 and is due to appear in court in Darmstadt as a co-claimant.

Last November Ms Benaissa appeared at an Aids charity gala in Berlin and openly declared: “My name is Nadja Benaissa, I’m 27 years old, I have a daughter – and I’m HIV-positive.”

No Angels were formed in 2000 on the international TV show Popstars, before recording a series of hits and emerging as Germany’s most successful girl band.

They re-formed in 2007 and competed in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing 23rd.

So actually, and this goes for all the media, the case against criminalising people with HIV status is not heard. We strongly recommend teachers read this excellent booklet arguing against criminalisation as such action is both unfair on the people with HIV-positive status and highly counterproductive in the fight to stop the spread of the disease.

There is a reasonably symapathetic interview with Ms Benaissa here (with English translation) which explores some of her own personal context for not “going public” with her HIV-positive status. It is hosted by a blog dedicated to fighting criminalisation, which contains some excellent resources.

As we said, there are no irresposnsible free lesson plans out there that we found but sometimes taking precautions keeps us healthy in body and mind.



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3 responses to “The Nadja Benaissa story, HIV-positive status, and the need to hold our lines against sensationalism and backlash.

  1. Delighted to say the BBC have finally got around to giving AIDS campaigners a voice. About an hour ago, they published this new online version of the early story:

    Complete with a 2mins 16secs radio interview with writer and campaigner Edwin Bernard on the issue.

    Better late than never!!

  2. carouser

    There are a lot of people who experience adversity everyday, to impart ones own misfortune on to others is a heinious course of action. But then again one could always rebuke perhaps those potentially contaminated by the young woman should have been more careful and taken more precautions no matter the mood at the time, because as they can boldly see right now, sometimes the consequences are too severe to reverse time and that of a disturbed girl’s point of view…

    assuming she indeed did willingly conceal her condition at the time.

    • Thanks for your comments,

      “….most people who transmit HIV either do so
      not knowing they are infected and not knowing they are transmitting HIV, or because they fear that to reveal their HIV status will result in violence, discrimination, rejection by family and friends, and other abuses basedon their HIV status. These fears, although often wellfounded,
      do not absolve individuals of the moral obligation
      to take steps to protect others from infection.
      However, to prosecute people who risk causing harm because of fear of discrimination neither deters their behavior nor achieves justice.”

      Wise words. Please take time to read the booklet they are taken from:

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