Saturday, December 01, 2007

Puerto Rico: Government should end offensive STD prevention campaign, activists ask for a public apology

Yesterday, on the eve of World AIDS Day, members of the Puerto Rican organization Permanent Assembly of People Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS called for an end to a government-sponsored STD prevention campaign launched in April of 2007 and demanded a public apology.

At issue, according to El Nuevo Dia, is the $1.2 million campaign's exclusive focus on abstinence as a means to HIV prevention and the use of images that the group says stigmatize HIV positive individuals (you can access the campaign materials through the campaign's online site, La Otra Cara del Sexo / The Other Side of Sex here).

"It's a campaign in which we are presented as monsters on the prowl for victims to fall,"said the organization's spokesperson Adalib Castro.

In a series of different ads, the campaign shows a young woman, a young man and a young heterosexual couple, whose reflection in a mirror shows a decaying zombie with a legend that reads "Abstention is the best protection."

Ivette Gonzalez, also a spokesperson of the activist organization, told El Nuevo Dia "It's a campaign based on fear... it has been proven that no method based on fear works."

She also called the campaign "incomplete" for not providing information on where to get tested for sexually transmitted illnesses and for not urging young people to use condoms if they are sexually active [actually under "Frequent Questions" one answer on the effectiveness of rubbers reads "Condoms are not 100% safe. Plus if you have oral relations you also run risks - for this reason get to know your partner and abstain" while another response discourages kissing by stating that kisses can transit "some" illnesses as well].

Gonzales also called the campaign "moralistic" for asking people to wait until marriage to engage in sex as means to prevent HIV infection.

"When I married my ex-husband I took all the [medical] tests that a person should before getting married and [now] I am infected with HIV. That I married him did not prevent me from getting infected."

In addition to yesterday's call for an end to the campaign, a couple of sites have popped up on the internet that are also critical of its message.

The first, an anonymous blog also named "The Other Side of Sex," seems to be more popular than the actual site as it pops up first at the top of the listings when you Google its name. It only has a couple of entries and it hasn't been updated since June but its satirical tone directly challenges the official site's abstinence and condom-phobic messages with tidbits such as "[condoms] only work 99% of the time, leaving unprotected 1% of the people that use them without knowing how to put them on or are used to leaving them for months on end inside their car's glove compartment or near sowing needles or any other sharp objects" and a quote below an image of an unhappy looking older couple that reads "We've spent 10 years as boyfriend and girlfriend and we have never had sex because we believe in abstinence. We are so happy. Isn't that true, Carlos?"

There is also an anonymous MySpace page called Guerrilla Sex Education set up by an "intellectual collective of young people" in Puerto Rico set up to challenge sexual disinformation that also challenges the assumptions behind the government's campaign, among other things.

In the meantime, in other statements made to El Nuevo Dia, the same group of activists said that they were calling for a participatory boycott of a World AIDS Day event planned by the island's Department of Health today calling for people to congregate at a public park wearing red shirts in order to form a human red ribbon.

Representatives from the Assembly called on participants to participate but to wear black instead of red shirts to demonstrate solidarity with HIV positive people and support for their fight for access to HIV meds.

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