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The return of the "HIV Monster"


The British tabloid press had a field day yesterday following the sentencing of Nkosinati Mabanda, 44, at Wolverhampton Crown Court for 'reckless' HIV transmission. He received a four year prison sentence; was also given an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) ordering him not to have sex without first revealing his HIV status (this is the first time ever someone with HIV has been given this order and it is unclear if this also covers his time in prison); and will be considered for deportation following his release.

Of note, the only successful prosecutions for 'reckless' HIV transmission in England & Wales since 2004 have taken place when the defendant pleaded guilty. This is because if someone pleads 'not guilty' the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that only the defendant could have infected the complainant(s) - and this is not an easy task because prosecutorial guidelines recommend that all previous sexual contacts prior to an HIV-positive test be tested for HIV and eliminated as potential sources.  Due to this limitation alone, many cases have been dropped or dismissed prior to trial.  (See this table of all UK cases from NAT - an additional heterosexual case in Wood Green, London, was dismissed in March 2011 due to lack of evidence).

In fact, Mr Mabanda had tried to change his guilty plea (and his legal representation) when he realised how difficult it was to prove the charges he'd already pleaded guilty to. He was not only unsuccessful, but did himself no favours by having a further sexual relationship with another woman (who did not test HIV-positive) in the two years he was out on bail.  (The first report of his case, from December 2009, is here.)

Since Mr Mabanda's country of birth is Zimbabwe (he apparently migrated to the UK in 2004), the two right-wing (and best-selling) tabloids, The Sun and The Daily Mail pandered to their readers' prejudices and characterised this human being who had make mistakes (as human beings do) as an 'HIV Monster'.

The term "HIV Monster" and its variant, "HIV Avenger", has been around since the late-1980s. The idea that a person with HIV is no longer human but a "monster" was established by the myth of "Patient Zero," a key figure in Randy Shilts' bestselling 1987 book about the AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On. "Patient Zero" was characterised as a sociopathic individual who may have intentionally infected others following his AIDS diagnosis, behaviour for which, Shilts suggested, the coercive powers of the state were ineffective. This myth has since been replayed many times worldwide and is often the impetus for calls for new HIV-specific laws and/or tougher sentencing.

Certainly, readers' comments suggest the tabloids did their job of dehumanising Mr Mabanda - many calling for his death, castration or, at the very least, immediate deportation to what they hope will be a certain and painful death in the absence of HIV treatment in his native Zimbabwe.  Anti-immigration (and anti-African) sentiment is also widely expressed.  The comment below is illustrative of all of the above, and yet also alludes to the difficulties of disclosure due to HIV stigma. (Of course, having children if you are HIV-positive is neither "off the cards" nor "selfish" - it is possible to conceive and give birth with minimal risk to a sexual partner or infant and many people with HIV can, and do, have children with the full support of their doctors, partners and families.)


The content of the stories - if not the tabloids' headlines -  take their facts and their moral tone from a police press release, and the words of the complainant.

The press release states:

Superintendent Jan Thomas-West, from West Midlands Police, said: "The particularly disturbing element of this case is Mabanda's blasé attitude towards his victim and his various other partners.

"Mabanda told officers that he had had sex with nine women in the UK and that seven of them had not know he was HIV positive. Unfortunately, these women were impossible to trace.

"He seems to have shown no regard for the health of others or the potential life sentence he may have passed on to anyone who had sex with him.

"His victim will remain on medication forever and her life expectancy has been reduced as a direct result of his actions.

"I am pleased that Mabanda has received a significant custodial sentence today."

West Midlands police subsequently circulated a second email quoting the complainant, parts of which were used in the The Sun and Mail stories.

Further to this release, please find below a statement from his victim, who wishes to remain anonymous:

"I am pleased with the sentence given to Mabanda today and that the judge recognised the seriousness of what he has done.

"I feel a combination of anger and relief. Anger at what he has done to me and potentially other women and relief because he has been punished for his actions.

"I think he should have been given life because that's the sentence he has given to me.

"What he did has had a devastating impact and will affect me every day for the rest of my life, but now I want to move on.

"If anyone else recognises him because of the media coverage and they have been infected, they should go to the police and I will be there for them."

 The complainant also gave interviews to the local paper, The Express and Star and to BBC Radio 5.

She said: "He should have been given life because that's the sentence he has given to me. He's just scum. I hope he's deported because I hate him.

"I'm on medication now for the rest of my life."

And in the BBC interview she highlights that Mr Mabanda knew he was HIV-positive "before he came to this country."

I have a great deal of compassion for the complainant, who also admits in the BBC interview that she knew nothing about HIV (including, obviously, how to protect herself) before she discovered from Mr Mabanda's fiancée that she was at risk.  

But there appears to be no attempt to understand how or why Mr Mabanda acquired HIV himself; continued to have multiple concurrent relationships; and felt unable or unwilling to either use a condom or disclose to most of the women he encountered. (Interestingly, though, he had disclosed to two of the ten women.)  The only evidence of any kind of understanding of Mr Mabanda's issues comes from someone who is unknown to me - and appears unconnected with the HIV advocacy world - on Twitter.

Couldn't agree more, Krystle.

Sean on:


Show Comment(s)

Comments on Edwin Bernard's blog entry "The return of the "HIV Monster""

The Sun, A vile right wing rag of a newspaper so I expect nothing less than what I have read. The only thing you can count on in that paper is the date at the top of the page. More of murdochs ethical publications at work!!!

I don't mean to sound callus or cold BUT, It does take two !!! Unless she was raped she has half of the responsibility. Even IF he said he was negative or whatever...She could and should have insisted on his using a condom. So her recklessness must be factored in. Regardless of what he did or didn't do or say, She didn't take any responsibility or precautions herself. It's that same old arrogance that SHE was not at any risk because only queers get it right ??? Well Honey, Now you know. AIDS doesn't discriminate like people do...If you are sexually active you must assume responsibility for your own actions...
Wear a condom.
Simple as that.

I agree with the above statement in regard to source of the story. A right-wing rag. This is the problem with Murdock's media world that we have let him create - it has NO real standards. This is a very important matter that should not be taken lightly but we MUST see the human side to ALL parties involved. The Sun is no respecter of NO one. I am ashamed to even see such a source quoted by Poz.

I totally agree with you that HIV is Monster. This disease is dreadful and i wish noone found this disease in themself. Everyone should keep in mind that if they have caught by this disease. They are finished so we must know about the safety and know about Hiv. Your blog has nice information. Thanks

Seriously???? It takes 2???? Why is it that gay people are so vindictively gleeful when a woman is purposefully infected. Its rare that any woman has a real choice in the condom situation-- husbands force their wives to have sex, poor, disenfranchised women are left little control of their own bodies-- alot of times even sex is not an active choice-- let alone a condom.

And so this man is to be released from protecring others from a deadly diseaw just because judgmental people want women punished for having sex??


Those who carry a gun are responsible if the gun harms someone-- no blame is assigned if a bullet proof vest wasn't worn

Those who carry a knife should keep it sheathed

One blames a ponzi scheme victim
For trusting the scammer--- talk to
All the millionaires who lost
Their life savings in thenBernie Madoff
Scheme---- these were smart people-- miovie stars, succcessful educated--- NO ONE BLAMED THEM!!!!


Its a throwback to blaming a woman who wears a short skirt for getting raped. She didn't DESERVE it!!! It was the RAPISTS FAULT.

Why do you all not GET that?? Is it because YOU want a free pass to go out and randomly infect who you please in case they don't insist on a condom???

Is it right to harm another human for your own selfish pleasure--

That's the definition of a sociopath

Think about who you truly are...


i was effected by aman who dint tell me his status only that i just found my self positive after staying with him for two years.For him he died now am alone with a kid of 4years.Atleast i have i strong heart

I took responsibility too. I took the responsibility to the police ( along with 6 other women) after a 4 yr exclusibe-- according to him and a visit to thre Dr's office about his tests--- he simply lied aboit the results.
I believe intimate realtions as this one appeared to be shoild be built on trust and that if there was any danger of transmission of something it should rest squarely with the person who could potentially spread the disease.
What exclusive couple uses condoms after 4 yrs.?? There is the expectation of trust and it wasnt there.

So i took my resposibility right down to the police station, i took my responsibiliy to the other women i could find and i took my responsibility into a 10 day court drama where a 12 person jury agreed that the responsibility for transmission was his-- and that he could think about that responsibility for 45 years in jail.

Frankly ,Im not sure he will ever reach that conclusion--- but if he doesnt, MY responsibility was effective in preventing a long line of other women from becoming infected. I believe i took my responsibility very seroiusly.

While I appreciate all the above comments, I have lived 25+ years with HIV/AIDS, And during all this time I have practiced safer and safest sex without infecting my partners, he had an obligation to inform his partners, it is called a moral obligation. The sad part of the story is in he is referred to as an HIV/Monster... Now that applies to the children born with this disease, no matter how responsible they handle it, and to all the people with it, everyone has a responsibility to protect themselves to a certain degree, buckle up, hang on to the rail going down steps, etc etc, I just do not understand why people are willing to have sex without asking about all diseases, not just HIV, hepatitis will kill you quicker and you can get it the same way, but they want so desperately to criminalize AIDS... but not other infectious diseases, it shows the narrow minded stigma still occurring around HIV. So why we still have HIV infections occurring other then in rare cases is for just one reason, the simple fact that we lack education, as long as we continue on the abstinence only message, do not teach our children how to protect themselves, the 20% or so that do not yet know they have HIV will continue to spread this disease. Criminalizing this one man was considered justice even in my mind... but it will not slow the spread of HIV very much as long as we allow our children to go into the age of sexually raging hormones without a clue of anything but to just say no...

Poz's preoccupation with this type of story seems to ignore the victim. HIV is not, as we would like to believe, "a chronic and manageable disease", and this man is a murderder. He has victims, who are now poz and deserve representation in the discouse. As someone who was probably intentionally infected by a gentelman who removed the condom midway through intercourse, I have to say that I find this ongoing denial of the other side of the story very troubling. The author alludes to tales from the eighties and a movie as though these "avengers" are urban legends. They're not. There are a lot of vindictive, reckless people running around with this virus, and they deserve to be punished just like we deserve medical care and an end to stigma. Pointing out the inherent racism of those who've responded to this story distracts from their very legitimate anger. Sugarcoating what has happened to the victims in an unrealistic ideal of "self protection" or trying to expand upon the implications of prosecuting these infectors only has the effect of making this publication seem out of touch and lacking in compassion.

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This page contains a single entry by Edwin Bernard published on July 27, 2011 1:24 PM.

To be, or not to be - Denmark's HIV-specific law was the previous entry in this blog.

Don't bother locking up your daughters, just lock up black men with HIV is the next entry in this blog.

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