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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Stigma and Ignorance Contribute to Murder

By Candace Y.A. Montague

September 24, 2012

Red ribbons

Having HIV is not a crime. Credit: liveconsortium.ning.com.

News has been widely circulated lately about a woman in Dallas, Texas who was killed by her boyfriend because she had HIV and failed to disclose her status prior to sex. The accused, who was allegedly a married man, confessed to the crime by saying "she killed me so I killed her". As shocking and sad as this is, it is eerily becoming more common. Murder cases because of HIV disclosure have been cropping up Sacramento, California, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and even Trinidad. And while D.C. has stepped up its efforts to inform the public more about HIV/AIDS, the city is not immune to murder and stigma surrounding HIV.

There was a case brought to court in July here in the District involving a man named Keith Littlejohn-El who killed his girlfriend who was HIV positive. Although he did not admit to killing her and his defense lawyers claimed he knew she was positive and continued to care for her, the details of her murder point to stigma playing a key factor. Littlejohn-El was in a reportedly tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend of 20 years Selena Knight. According to Knight's friends and relatives he was emotionally and physically abusive. He even once threatened to put up signs in the neighborhood with Knight's picture disclosing her status. When the police came to her Southeast apartment the day of her murder they discovered writing on the wall in marker saying "You gave me HIV. You gave me AIDS." Prosecutors claimed that was an attempt to pin the murder on someone else.

How can a woman leave a man who has not only been abusive to her but has threatened to disrupt her life and shame her in her own neighborhood by disclosing her status? If the physical abuse points are true then it is understandable why she would stay. But the added mental abuse of threatening to tell everyone that knows her that she is HIV positive is a shining example of how stigma is a weapon. Disclosing one's status is never an easy task to do and should be left up to the person to do at their own pace (and preferably before the first sexual encounter). I would never advise keeping one's status a secret from his or her sexual partner. But that conversation is one that must ultimately begin with the positive person initiating it. No one should have to deal with another person "threatening" to tell the world about their illness. Ms. Knight undoubtedly stayed with this abusive man because she feared for physical well being and her life after the relationship ended.

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Domestic violence and personal responsibility are also things that have not been taken into account here. Abuse in all forms is very widespread these days and silence condones it. Littlejohn-El was actually confronted by Ms. Knight's friends at one point because of how he treated her. There is no excuse for the violence that continues to oppress women. Abuse can shame the victim and put them at risk for all kinds of things including HIV. Also, one cannot ignore the fact that adults are ultimately responsible for their own safety and well being. That includes using condoms when having sex. It's disturbing to hear Mr. Littlejohn-El or the other suspects in these crimes say that someone "gave" them HIV as if it were forced on them. I'm not blaming the person who became infected but placing the blame solely on the female for "giving" them a preventable disease isn't exactly fair either. Everyone has a choice. We all have the power to prevent HIV and it starts with taking control of your own life and health.

These days the mention of HIV and AIDS can send chills up someone's spine and make them visibly uncomfortable. Facial expressions alone show that this disease, 30+ years after discovery, is still seen as a death sentence. It's no wonder people have trouble getting tested and disclosing their status. The fear of being associated with the disease can be crippling. Sadly, we are seeing a surge of these senseless murders around the country. Having HIV does not equal death by any means but many people still see it as such. Stigma is indeed a weapon and education is our best defense.

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See Also
More on HIV/AIDS-Related Legal Cases

Reader Comments:

Comment by: opetrik (San Francisco, CA)) Wed., Oct. 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm EDT
This is truly sad and tragic and beyond belief for me. This is classic case of ignorance and stupidity about HIV disease. This man will most likely get the death sentence for this, thus ignorance and stupidity of HIV may be the reason he will die.
First, this man is 36 years old, he has lived most of his life with HIV disease being discussed and the need for safer sex to be practiced. If he did not ask her status prior to sex or did not use condoms with her, SHAME ON HIM. If a person has been living for over 30 years, then the need to practice safer sex has been repeated over and over in the media and throughout the community.
Next, SHE DID NOT KILL HIM! He did not know whether or not he contracted the disease and being HIV+ is not an automatic death sentence. As I stated, now however, most likely he will be given the death sentence for murdering her. If you are engaging in unsafe sex, then get tested and get educated!
Also, she would have been more at risk than him for contracting a sexually transmitted infection, if she did not ask his HIV status or whether or not he had any other STIís. If he is willing to have unsafe sex with her, most likely he was having unsafe sex with others. Yes, it would have been safer for both to use protection during sex. As an HIV+ person, unsafe sex is risky for them just as it is for others. SAFER SEX IS IMPORTANT!
If people are wiling to engage in unsafe sex practices, then they must learn to be accountable. Accountability is a responsibility for all involved. This man appears to be blaming her for his ignorance, stigma and lack of practicing unsafe sex.
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Comment by: jack (green lake sask) Wed., Oct. 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm EDT
i would like to tell the hiv doctors and nurses and hiv activists in saskatchewan ithink you people are the most discriminatory people in the hiv feild you people only want to help the people you want to and these hiv doctors honest to god are no better than a stump in the middle of the forest [they do nothing]its the truth.....
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Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague has been learning about HIV since 1988 (and she has the certificates from the American Red Cross to prove it). Health is a high priority to Candace because she believes that nothing can come of your life if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her two master's degrees is in Community Health Promotion and Education. Candace was inspired to act against HIV after seeing a documentary in 2008 about African-American women and HIV. She knew that writing was the best way for her to make a difference and help inform others. Candace is a native Washingtonian and covers HIV news all around D.C. She has covered fundraisers, motorcycle rides, town hall meetings, house balls, Capitol Hill press conferences, election campaigns and protests for The DC Examiner.com and emPower News Magazine.

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