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now that I know, who should I tell?

Jan 16, 2001

Hi Michael, Thank you for taking time to read my question. I am 20 years of age and just found out today that I am HIV+. I was raped almost a year ago and my test results from the tests right after came back negative. But just over a week ago I received a phone call from my attorney notifying me we have a case against my rapist again (since I dropped the previous charges) and he had just heard he was HIV+. I figured I was in the clear but was retested anyway to be safe. turns out I was infected. I don't care about bringing the legal aspect into my life again. I hated it then and don't want to face it now. I just broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years, before I received this news. He knew about the rapes and the testing and I know I have to tell him because chances are, he's infected now too. But who else should know? And how should I go about telling them? Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to talk to you. Things are rough, my world was turned upside-down when my boyfriend and I had broken up since a marriage was in the picture for us, and now I get dumped on with this. Happy new year I guess. Anywho, thanks again. Angelita Detroit,Michigan

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Dear Angelita,

I am so sorry to hear that you have been through the trauma of being sexually assaulted. I know how profoundly this affects a woman who has been raped. But you sound in such a good place in terms of recovering and not allowing yourself to fall into the victim head set that could continue to keep the original horror psychologically and emotionally active for you.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer as to who you SHOULD tell about being HIV+. The obvious people are each of your health care professionals, your doctor, dentist, etc. Aside from this, it completely depends upon who you feel would most benefit you if they knew this aspect of your life. In order to determine this, I advise you to make a list of the people who are closest to you in the world. Then make a second list of the people you feel most supported by. If some people are on both lists then they are the logical individuals for you to to share this information with in a time and manner that feels most comfortable for you.

It is helpful prior to telling anyone else to ask yourself what are you looking for from each individual by telling him or her. For instance in my case, I never told my parents about my being HIV+ though I am totally publicly open about it. My reasons for this was that they and I were never particularly close or intimate with each other. They never provided support or intimacy to me as an adult. Since they were old and ill, I figured why burden them with information that would disturb them? Most of all since there was nothing they could say or do to be supportive to me, why bother setting myself up for a hurt or disappointment by expecting them to treat this very important news any differently or more sensitively than they had ever responded to anything else I had shared with them? All of my siblings and other relatives with whom I am very close have known about my being HIV+ for many years. My parents died without knowing, and that is fine with me.

This is information about a very private and crucial part of your life. Be very judicious about who you share it with. Obviously, any man you are going to begin dating and want to get very close to will need to know. But when you tell depends upon how much trust he has earned.

I hope that this is helpful. Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

Michael Shernoff MSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan who has been providing mental health services to people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS since the onset of the epidemic. He can be reached at his home page ( or via e mail at

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