“So, have you been tested?”

One day in class, I made a link between this course and my Intro to Sociology lecture. On this day in particular we were discussing chapter 7 of Medical Apartheid. Chapter 7 discusses the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that ran from 1932 to 1972. This study is notorious for their racist and unethical practices. While it’s not directly correlated to the conversation in my sociology class, it initiated a rush of thoughts and ideas that were important to discuss.

In my sociology course, we are discussing the effect of social class, race, and gender and the role they play within regards to HIV/AIDS. More specifically, we are discussing those effects on lower income African American communities, homosexual relationships, and women. In a piece of writing by Celeste Watkins-Hayes, she discusses the effect of living in a low-income neighborhood. Watkins-Hayes specifically shows how these low-income communities are often less likely to have access to treatment for HIV, which results in a higher transmission rate. Infection rates skyrocket in these communities and offer an explanation for why, “groups that have been socially or economically marginalized are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.” 

Along with my connection between classes, my memory sparked with ideas connected to an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Law and Order: SVU has been my favorite show for years, and I have seen almost every episode. An episode titled, “Quickie”, follows the story of a man, Peter Butler, who engages in sexual relations with women from a social media app, but never discloses that he is HIV positive. The entirety of the episode follows the victims murder and discussing if the squad could potentially put Butler away for not disclosing his HIV status. Unfortunately, there are no direct laws that hand out consequences for this circumstance, besides a charge of assault. This episode references the case of the State of Texas vs. Philippe Padieu. The plot almost follows the same rhythm with Philippe Padieu, a man who knowingly has contracted HIV and begins engaging in sexual contact with countless women, without their consent. A jury convicted Padieu of assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced for more than 70 years. Something else to consider is Padieu had a prior conviction that effected this trial, if he hadn’t would his sentence have been shorter? Would justice have been served for the six women he exposed HIV to?

“In 2010, women represented one in four people living with HIV,” since then the rate has remained continuous and women are at the forefront of having HIV. Women can be considered an oppressed group in society, and the effects this labeling has are shown. Often, women reach towards prostitution as an easy gateway to gain protection, money, and employment. Bodies are exploited just to attain necessities to fulfill basic needs. Sex workers, in particular, experience exponentially higher HIV transmission rates due to the inconsistent use of condoms and the high number of partners they engage with. Women, usually younger women, are looked at to be more vulnerable and could potentially be less likely to be vocal about condom use by their partners. If sexual education was more prominent during their schooling or overall more accessible, a percentage of women would be more verbal about consenting.

            Throughout middle and high school, sex education was rarely spoken about unless you were in a health class. For myself in particular, I can’t remember a single time, besides health class, that sex education was mentioned. I believe this topic is important and I wish I had been exposed more regularly to something that affected the population. All I remember hearing is, “Abstinence is key,” yet I believe the opposite. Instead of teaching young adults to not engage in any sexual activity, you should be teaching them how to avoid and be aware of STDs/STIs and ways to prevent pregnancy. Being aware of the simple, yet powerful question, “Have you been tested?” could offer countless outcomes. Referring to the article by Watkins-Hayes, she speaks about how low-income, specifically African American communities, are not exposed to sexual education classes as much as a middle-class community would be. I grew up in a middle to lower class area, if that was all I was taught, I can’t begin to imagine the education other communities were offered. All in all, “HIV transmission can be prevented, why do an estimated 50,000 new infections occur annually in the United States?”

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