Nadja Benaissa, 28, a German pop singer with the popular girl group, “No Angels”, was found guilty of causing bodily harm to her ex-boyfriend by engaging in unprotected sex with him in 2004. He was unaware that she was HIV positive.
After winning a talent show, “Popstars” in 2000, she joined No Angels and hid her illness from everyone. Her aunt was actually the one to suggest that her ex get tested in 2007.
Benaissa’s trial began August 16, and she acknowledged at the hearing that she had unprotected sex in spite of knowing that she was HIV positive.
“I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart,” she stated, adding that she knows how much her ex was still suffering.
“I wish I could turn back time and make everything undone. But, I know that he will never forgive me.”
Benaissa told the court that she was addicted to crack cocaine at 14 and that during her pregnancy at 16, she found out that she had contracted HIV. She has a relatively rare strain of the disease first found in west Africa, and during the trial, mircrobiologist Josef Eberle, who had examined the virus of both Benaissa and her ex, told the court “in all probability” the singer was responsible for infecting the 34 year old man with HIV.
Benaissa could have faced a maximum of ten years behind bars for not disclosing the disease to her ex, but instead was given a two-year suspended prison sentence and 300 hours of community service after she was convicted in a Darmstadt court.
Prosecutor Peter Liesenfeld believes the sentence was appropriate.
“We have to remember that she was a lot younger than she is now, she had a turbulent life, and the acts were committed a long time ago,” he explained to the Associated Press Television News. “I think a suspended sentence is justified.”
Benaissa did not make any further comment after the trial, but her attorney Oliver Wallasch stated, “We managed to avoid a jail sentence for my client and with the conditions of the sentence received, including some community service which she said was justified during the trial, the sentence was satisfactory for the defense and my client.”
The Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe group criticized her verdict as disproportionate.
“If the responsibility for prevention is put entirely upon women and HIV-positive people, we are not recognizing the combined responsibility of two people,” said spokeswoman Marianne Rademacher.
I found this whole situation to be really heart wrenching for them both. Yes, she was in the wrong not to disclose the fact that she had contracted HIV when she was 16. But, I can’t imagine what her life must have been like at that point. Being a child infected with a disease like HIV would have been devastating, frightening and humiliating. I can’t even begin to process the shame, guilt, fear and panic she must have felt. (Especially knowing that she had a child, herself, as well.)
On the other hand, I understand why people have been so upset by the verdict, believing it wasn’t harsh enough. Many comments like “if the situation were reversed...” do have their merit, but we should take into account that there was no malicious intent behind the actions. She hid her condition out of fear and guilt. I am not condoning her actions at all, but her ex also played his part by being irresponsible about having unsafe sex. Every time you take that chance and gamble with your health, you run the risk of contracting a disease like HIV.
If we start punishing people more harshly for passing HIV to unsuspecting partners, we also run the risk of less and less people wanting to come forward and seek medical attention for contracting the disease out of fear that they will be imprisoned. What we need to do is come together as a community and talk more honestly and openly with one another about our sexual history and prevention. Honest communication and age-appropriate sex education are the only real weapons to fight the spread of preventable sexually transmitted infections.