Women everywhere, rejoice! Not only have we have been legally absolved of all responsibility, we now hold a Damoclean sword over the heads of all HIV positive men who have the audacity to take what is offered so freely, and then spurn us for their wives and children. Now ladies, even if we are duped in the relationship by professions of love (because we all know no man invokes the L word to keep a good thing going), no matter, the boys in blue can arrest him later. Oh, and if we can claim we were not aware that he was married, even better. Apparently this will have some bearing on any criminal charges eventually filed (at least in Canada).
Whoa! Let's back this train up a little before heading straight into patriarchal Hell. We have already passed through too many dehumanizing stations for the comfort of any thinking being - male or female. For starters: The choice of pregnant women to decide what they put into their bodies was taken away with the advent HIV/AIDS. This was quickly followed by the portrayal of women as helpless victims, waiting to be rescued by the white knights of the pharmaceutical industry with such empowering items as the microbicidal vaginal ring.
No matter that repeated microbicide use as a prophylactic against an essentially untransmissible (and harmless) microbe leads to increased irritation and susceptibility to real infections. Meddle away in our reproductive tracts Sir Galahad and we will continue to swoon at the newly bestowed level of independence. That independence, within the Canadian context, now includes filing the most grievous of sexual assault charges. Case in point: The contemporary legal debacles of former CFL linebacker, Trevis Smith.
The "ex"-Saskatchewan Roughrider star was arrested in October 2005, and the Canadian legal system will attempt to convict him of aggravated sexual assault in January of 2007. The sole basis of these charges is Smith's HIV antibody diagnosis. Canadian legal officials are contending Smith knowingly had unprotected sex with a woman, who was unaware of his HIV status. The officials claim, even though this woman is HIV antibody negative, that this put her in danger of dying - a situation that fits the legal definition of aggravated sexual assault in Canada.
Ignoring the fact that Trevis did not put anyone's life in danger, this case is a frightening example of how the "HIV hypothesis" has lacerated many of the gains made by women's rights groups. As politically incorrect as it may be to put the “victim” on trial, where does the responsibility lay? Perhaps it should be divided equally by the number of people in the bed.
Following conventional wisdom, the surest way to protect oneself from most STD's is condom use. According to this Ottawa Citizen article (typical of the yellow journalism that has followed this case at every turn) Smith had the incredible kismet to hook up with four women who maintained more rational condom use discussions with their partner than any real people I know. That the author of this libelous article believed any of the statements of the anonymous accusers enough to print them, itself defies belief. Unfortunately, this same article made its way from Canada to Alabama, where the families of Trevis and his wife Tamika were subjected to the humiliation and libel.
I recently held a conversation with Tamika to get her perspective on this medieval ordeal. Not only does she live with the specter of a husband awaiting trial, a pending deportation order as her visitor's visa expires in days, and a Canadian media feeding frenzy to rival any in the US, she has also been subjected by her husband's accusers no less, to everything from condescension to outright derision as the naïve girl determined to stand by her man. The irony of the other woman counseling the wife on how to be an independent woman deserves no further comment.
A few minutes with Tamika shatters any illusions of her passivity. She is outspoken about the insidious and increasingly distorted and cruel pictures that have been painted of what is essentially an ordinary family.
They are both youngsters. Trevis is 30, Tamika just 28, and they have two daughters, 5 and 3. They met at a basketball game while students at the University of Alabama, fell in love, and lived most of their brief married life apart, since the groom signed a contract (for life evidently -- more on this in part 2) shortly after the nuptuals.
But she is even more angry at the distortion of truth that has followed her family and turned their lives into Kafka nightmares.
Both she and Trevis quickly became educated about HIV "truth" following his "diagnosis" in 2003. After a few weeks on the "meds", he grew so ill that he gave them up and began reading alternative literature. Since rejecting the "official AIDS" line and belief systems, he has of course remained completely healthy, and even played football for two seasons! I will have more to write about this gigantic incongruity in the next installment.
And there is one other issue that fuels her anger, and it is not the infidelity. Regarding the youthful, football star on the road in a foreign country with sexual favors offered almost at every turn, she jokes, “Trevis is in a safe place right now.”
No, the other, source of constant anger is the message this whole sordid affair sends. Shifting responsibility for our own decisions is as despicable as blaming the woman when an unwanted pregnancy occurs. "It still takes two to tango, fox trot or boogey."
Including HIV antibody status as a deadly weapon, and treating consensual sex as sexual assault only increases stigmatization and discrimination, while diminishing the impact of real assault. Take this example from my own part of Canada, that is described by the Crown as “a brutal attack”, in which a young woman, after refusing a man's unwanted advances fled, was pursued into the street, kicked, beaten and dragged by the hair into a residence, where she was brutally attacked for several hours. The three men involved were convicted of aggravated sexual assault and received sentences ranging from 9 to 13 months.
Contrast this to another case involving a Newfoundland male who failed to disclose his HIV status to his girlfriend. They subsequently broke up and began dating other people. In the end he was sentenced to 5 ½ years for aggravated assault, as well as 18 months for common nuisance (potential harm to the general public) to be served concurrently.
[To be continued.]
Shelley McNeil is a single mother of three, and a final year student in the environmental studies program at Memorial University of Newfoundland.