- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010


Meet Rick Webster, Tammy Sharp and Kevin Sellars, and allow a reintroduction of Nadja Benaissa - the Norah Jones-inspired songstress. Each represents a portentous new challenge in the battle against HIV/AIDS. But are you paying attention?

The Sellars’ case represents a parent’s worst nightmares about a child predator. Mr. Webster, meanwhile, is HIV-positive and charged with assaulting a teen. Ms. Sharp’s case is one of those spooky ones: She donated blood plasma knowing full well she was HIV-positive.

As for Miss Benaissa, well, as older folks used to say, “Hard heads make for soft behinds.” This is a young woman who was a mom at 17 and blessed with a successful music career by 19. But she let lying down for sex lead her to a possible 10-year prison sentence because she failed to inform the men she slept with that she had HIV. Sadly, one of them has tested positive.

With news (and rumors) spreading more quickly via e-mails and the Web than Edward R. Murrow and Hedda Hopper could ever have imagined, it’s easy to discover that a new generation of HIV threats is upon us.

Take Mr. Webster. At 14, he and his parents spoke on CNN about his status. At 16, he spoke with the Newark Star-Ledger about contracting HIV from his birth mother and encouraged HIV-positive people to practice abstinence. “I have the virus,” he told the paper back then, “but I try not to think about. I don’t want it to ruin my day. It’s a priority, but I want to live like a normal person.”

Now 20, Mr. Webster is living anything but “like a normal person” because he is in jail.

“Webster was arrested Feb. 19. He faces charges that include sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and an act of penetration by a diseased person,” UPI reported on March 10.

This new generation of HIV-positive threats has young people themselves so worried they are writing about it in their high school papers. “Everyone at our age either doesn’t know the proper precautions or if they do they aren’t responsible,” Kansas schoolgirl Jacqueline Simmons told the Topeka West High School’s Capitol View. “Or they think ‘Oh one time isn’t going to hurt me,’ but yes it will.”

Jacqueline is just 12 years old.

Police say Mr. Sellars, 49, prowled for young teens on MySpace. According to San Antonio’s kens5.com, Mr. Sellars used the social networking site “to lure a 15-year-old Indiana boy to Houston last December. Investigators say he sexually assaulted the teen for more than a week during Christmas week.”

Afterward he told the boy “I have HIV. You probably do, too. Have a nice life,” a prosecutor said.

And don’t forget the threat of supposed do-gooders, such as 39-year-old Miss Sharp of Indiana, who donate blood and plasma.

Twenty-three states make failure to disclose HIV status a crime if the person engages in sexual activity. In Michigan, which instituted its law in 1988, a 54-year-old woman faces up to four years in prison for being tight-lipped about her status.

And you have to be on the lookout for people like Tony Perkins - people who know they are infected, don’t care and are determined to spread the dreaded virus as if they are in full-blown revenge mode.

Eerily, this is another Indiana case, and the reporting by theindychannel.com makes it sound as though Mr. Perkins, 47, went in search of women looking for Mr. Goodbar. As of Tuesday, he faced 17 felony counts of failing to disclose his HIV status - each of which carries a sentence of up to eight years.

“Police said Perkins intentionally tried to spread HIV by having unprotected sex with dozens of women,” the Web site reported, and he “may have had unprotected sex with more than 100 women in the more than five years since his diagnosis.”

He also sent mass text messages to women.

AIDS advocates say disclosing someone’s HIV-positive status results in stigmatizing and stereotyping. No argument here.

But what’s not debatable is the public-health threat.

Are you paying attention now?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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