This morning, I received an email from Frank J. Oldham, Jr., President and CEO of the National Association of People With AIDS, attacking the New York Post for violating HIV status privacy of the maid, who accused former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn of forced oral sex and attempted rape. Oldham has been an advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS for thirty years.
The letter, in its entirety, is reproduced with permission from NAPWA. Please circulate it widely on twitter, Facebook, email, whatever.
May 20, 2011 – 11:47am
A message from Frank J. Oldham, Jr.
This week the New York Post reported – rightly or wrongly – that the woman accusing former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn of forced oral sex and attempted rape lives in housing for people living with HIV. The Post owe the victimized woman an apology, and they owe their readers education, not hysteria.
The biggest – and very welcome – HIV news this month is the early release of the HPTN 052 trial results, proving once and for all that bringing people with HIV into treatment with anti-HIV drugs as early as possible reduces the number of new infections.
However encouraging those results are, they do not mean that the epidemic is over. It will be years, if ever, before all Americans living with HIV come into voluntary testing and voluntary treatment, protecting their own health and reducing their chance of infecting others. We will never reach that goal until we overcome everything that makes people afraid to know their status: HIV stigma, HIV hysteria, and plain HIV ignorance.
We therefore condemn the Post’s report this week that the alleged sexual assault victim lives in housing for people with HIV operated by our good friends and colleagues Harlem United. Whatever their intention, the Post have triggered a flood of messages that promote the very stigma, hysteria, and ignorance that keep the HIV epidemic growing.
Press around the world are now fixated on whether the man who is charged with forcing oral sex upon her has become an HIV “victim.” Women living with HIV will be even more reluctant than before to come forward when sexually assaulted. The Post’s readers are having their worst prejudices and fears about HIV and people who live with it confirmed.
The Post’s coverage reinforces the uninformed and false belief that receiving oral sex from a person living with HIV puts one at high risk of becoming infected – in fact, very few new HIV infections happen this way.
Worst of all, the Post’s coverage not only violated the alleged victim’s privacy, it missed an opportunity to educate. Housing programs like Harlem United’s give poor people living with HIV a safe and stable place to live, stay in contact with the support services they need, and take their antiviral drugs on time every day. When they do that, they become significantly less likely to pass their infections on to others – as HPTN 052 has proved.
The Post owes the woman whose privacy they have so outrageously violated a very public apology.
And they owe their readers honest education about HIV.
Frank J. Oldham, Jr.
President and CEO