Greece

Austerity destroys society: the rise of HIV-Aids stigma in Greece

 

An HIV-positive woman is vilified on Greek TV. Image redacted by USi to protect her identity.

- By Zoe Mavroudi

In early May 2012, a few days before the first round of national elections in Greece, the Greek police force published on its official website the mugshots of 26 people arrested under felony charges of threatening serious bodily harm. Several of them showed signs of drug abuse. Some were immigrants, most were native-born Greek citizens.

But all of the people arrested and charged had two things in common: they were women and they were all HIV positive.

These HIV positive women were arrested as part of a major police operation that saw almost 100 alleged female sex workers rounded up from the streets of central Athens and force-tested specifically for HIV.

Those diagnosed positive were imprisoned and remain in prison in Athens, awaiting trial for the seventh month in a row – without ready access to their essential medication. Apart from their freedom and health, they have lost their right to privacy as their photos made the rounds of every major Greek media outlet, thus depriving them of the possibility of a future return to normal life in Athens or in their home towns and communities.

During the brief period of time when the case captured the attention of the mainstream media in Greece, it divided public opinion, shocking some who viewed it as a modern-day witch hunt, while reassuring others who – in the words of one Greek Socialist minister – recognized an urgent need for the protection of “the Greek family” and the Greek public at large.

In that brief window of time, these women became public enemy number one and behind their arrest, public outing and ensuing imprisonment, Greeks were asked to identify a strong, decisive State dedicated to public safety and swift justice.

But was that really the case? Did the Greek State act in the public interest? Does the criminalization of a disease protect public health? Did the financial crisis and resulting austerity measures and their implications for bringing forth legislative and policy change play a role in the case? What role did the mainstream media play in the case? What have been the implications on the women and their families as they face potentially several more months in prison before defending themselves in court? And indeed, how does a society facing a severe economic and political crisis maintain its cohesion without losing its humanity?

A new video-documentary produced by a team of volunteer journalists from the Athens-based citizens journalism community of Radiobubble will attempt to address the issues raised in this case, issues that have been only superficially addressed and in some cases even skewed by most Greek media outlets. The video will be released in spring 2013 and will feature archive footage as well as interviews with medical and legal experts, activists, journalists, as well as with some of the major players in this ongoing drama.

We need funding to make this happen. Please help us to tell this important story – and defend the rights of these women – by donating to cover the costs of producing the video.

Funding will be used for production expenses and support costs for those working on the project. A detailed, costed funding proposal is available on request. Radiobubble is hoping to use the video as a starting point for a feature-length documentary. Any extra funding will be allocated towards that goal.

You can donate through our Greek solidarity campaign.

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