Public split over actor’s HIV admission

Troubled: Since 1990, Sheen has been accused of violence against seven different women.

Charlie Sheen is no stranger to controversy and this week he opened up about the ‘karmic confusion’ of his HIV diagnosis. An admirable display of bravery? Or will he do more harm than good?

‘I am here to admit that I am in fact HIV positive,’ said the actor Charlie Sheen on the US Today show earlier this week. Rumours had been circulating for days about an unnamed Hollywood star who had been accused of misleading partners about their infection. ‘I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths,’ he said.

Sheen was first diagnosed four years ago, and the news sent him into a destructive cycle of alcohol, drug abuse, and the ‘hired’ company of ‘unsavoury and insipid types’. Although he confided in close friends, his ‘trust became their treason’ — and faced with extortion and blackmail, he paid up to $10 million to keep them quiet. ‘I release myself from this prison today.’

HIV is a virus which, if left untreated, slowly destroys the body’s immune system. This can lead to the syndrome Aids, although Sheen’s doctors say this has not happened in his case. The virus is generally transmitted through bodily fluids, most commonly through unprotected sex or sharing needles when injecting drugs.

The disease has carried a stigma ever since the first cases emerged in 1981, when it was believed only to affect gay men. This was proved to be false — but as doctors desperately searched for a cure, panic and homophobia spread. By the end of the decade, 27,408 people had died from the disease.

Now, treatments for HIV are far more advanced — with the right combination of medicines, it can become virtually undetectable and extremely difficult to pass on to others. But the stigma remains; of more than 100,000 people in the UK who are living with HIV, around one in four are unaware of their infection — which could allow it to spread more easily.

Charlie Sheen has donated to HIV/Aids charities in the past, but says that he does not want to be a ‘poster man’ for the disease. Still, he said, ‘if there was one guy on this planet to contract this that’s going to deliver a cure, it’s me.’

Positive reaction?

There has been a rush of sympathy for Sheen since he came clean about his diagnosis, with many applauding his honesty. The admission may go some way towards normalising the disease, educating people and reminding them that it does not only affect gay men. Just two weeks before World Aids Day, it is encouraging to see a well-known figure be open about his experience.

But others watched with contempt as the saga unfolded. Sheen would clearly prefer that his diagnosis had remained a secret, and went to great lengths to cover it up. His language about the kind of ‘lifestyle’ that led to his infection is severely damaging to HIV patients who have campaigned for years to remove the stigma from their illness. They deserve better.

You Decide

  1. Has Charlie Sheen’s announcement changed your view of HIV and Aids?
  2. Do celebrities have a duty to ‘come out’? Or could Sheen have continued to keep it private?

Activities

  1. As a class, list all of the things you have heard about HIV and Aids, writing them down on individual cards. Together and with help from your teacher, research each one and separate them into two categories: myths and facts.
  2. Produce a leaflet about HIV, offering useful information and advice on how to prevent the infection. Use the links under Become An Expert to help you.

Some People Say...

“Celebrities should not have opinions.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How should I react if someone tells me they are HIV positive?
Be supportive; it can be a difficult thing to admit. And do not judge them — the virus can be caught in several different ways, and it does not tell you anything about their past.
How can I protect myself?
The virus can only be transmitted through bodily fluid contact, so if you are careful, it is completely safe to date or befriend someone with HIV. Always cover cuts with plasters or bandages straight away, and do not share toothbrushes or razors. If you are injecting drugs, use sterile needles and dispose of them immediately. If you have oral or penetrative sex, always use a condom; contraception methods such as the pill will not prevent infection from spreading. (This also applies to other sexually-transmitted infections.)

Word Watch

Charlie Sheen
Once the highest-paid actor on television, Sheen has pleaded guilty to assaulting two women since 1990, and been accused of abusing five more. In 2011, he was fired from Two and a Half Men for his increasingly erratic behaviour.
HIV
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus attacks the ‘T cells’ which work as part of the human body’s immune system. There is currently no way to remove the virus completely, but it can be controlled.
Aids
If the HIV virus is left untreated and enough T cells are destroyed, the patient will develop Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which can be fatal. This is why it is so important to be tested for HIV.
Gay men
Men who have sex with men (including bisexual men) are more susceptible to the virus, as it transmits more easily through anal sex.
Homophobia
Fear of the Aids epidemic, labelled the ‘gay plague’, fuelled anti-LGBT feeling across society, including from governments and the press.
27,408
Statistic from the Smithsonian.
100,000
In 2013, the number was estimated to be around 107,800 by Public Health England.

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