August 26, 2010
After a two-week trial, a German court has found Nadja Benaissa, a member of the pop group No Angels, guilty of causing bodily harm to an ex-boyfriend for having unprotected sex with him, not disclosing that she had HIV, and ultimately infecting him with the virus. While she could have been sentenced up to 10 years for this offense under German law, she instead received a two-year suspended sentence, mandatory counseling and 300 hours of community service with people who are living with HIV.
The man who claimed Benaissa infected him said they had a three-month relationship at the beginning of 2004 and that he got tested after Benaissa's aunt asked him in 2007 whether he was aware that the singer was HIV-positive.
Benaissa said she didn't tell anybody about her disease because she was afraid of the consequences -- which she described during the trial as a "cowardly act."
During the trial, microbiologist Josef Eberle, who examined the viruses of both Benaissa and her ex-boyfriend, told the court "in all probability" the singer was responsible for infecting the 34-year-old man with the virus that causes AIDS.
Both were suffering from a very rare type of the virus that was first found in western Africa, he said.
Benaissa told the court she became addicted to crack cocaine at 14 and that during her pregnancy at 16, she found out that she was HIV positive.
Although a media firestorm exploded over whether Benaissa was remorseful because she smirked throughout the trial, the judge thought she was regretful for her actions and handed down a lenient sentence. CNN reported:
Benaissa admitted not telling sexual partners she was HIV-positive but denied intending to infect anyone, telling the court during the trial, "I am sorry from the heart."
Benaissa had said she believed there was little chance of her passing on the virus and she did not want it made public because of the harm it might cause her daughter and the band, according to the German newspaper Bild.
This trial, to which the global media paid a tremendous amount of attention, brought up a myriad of issues about HIV criminalization, including the fairness of placing the burden of HIV prevention on those who are positive. Marianne Rademacher, a spokesperson for Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, told the BBC in response to Benaissa's conviction, "If the responsibility for prevention is put entirely upon women and HIV-positive people, we are not recognising the combined responsibility of two people."
Kellee Terrell is TheBody.com's former news editor.
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