Demand for Avon & Somerset Police to Retract Claims that Spit Guards Prevent HIV.
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We get it. We appreciate and understand that nobody deserves to be spat at or spat on, especially when they are acting in the line of duty. The disrespect that such an action portrays from the perpetrator to the victim is huge, and should be treated every bit an assault on the person as a physical attack. We are not calling for a recall of spit hoods for the police when faced with risky suspects and we can see why they are wanted and potentially needed.
What we cannot accept and will continue to challenge and demand retraction of is the poorly researched press announcement, at this point seen by over 27,000 people, that these hoods will somehow protect officers from contracting HIV. This information is not simply untrue, but coming from a respected authority, will have done more to damage education and public knowledge on how HIV is transmitted than anything we can remember in recent history, and right before World AIDS Day 2017, which should have been a celebration of how far we have come. By claiming spit and saliva are contaminated fluids that can pass HIV is to go back to the 80s where people were advised not to drink from the same glass, to wear two pairs of gloves when touching an HIV positive person, and not to wipe away tears from their eyes for fear of transmission. Even if blood were to be present in the saliva, there would not be the quality or quantity of virus to lead to transmission, even if it were to land on open wounds. Of more than 36,000,000 contractions of HIV in the world, the total number to have occurred as a result of being spat on, whether blood is present of not, is zero. Saliva weakens the virus, and there is no quality route into the human body. We are already, as a result of protesting this PR disaster by the police, having to answer aggressive and angry questions from the public putting forward more and more ludicrous situations in which it would be possible to contract HIV in this way. To make sure there is no doubt, it is not possible, and I call on anyone who would like to challenge this assertion to provide evidence of a single transmission that has occurred due to an individual being spat on, regardless of how horrible it is for this to happen to them.
The police have in private conversations with ACTup members agreed that their announcement was inappropriate, and have publicly apologised for hurting the feelings of those who feel stigmatised. Let us be clear, we are not upset, we are angry. 30 years of advocacy and campaigning are so easily brought down by crass and ill-though out comments, and an apology for hurt feelings is insubstantial as the Police still have an announcement on their press release and on their social media accounts that states that the spit of HIV positive people will infect you. The police are aware the information is untrue, and they are aware that they have been found out, but they believe that a retraction will weaken their argument for hoods. They are therefore satisfied that the ends justify the means and they are continuing to wilfully mislead and lie to the people of Bristol. It demeans their argument, which is strong enough without resorting to misinformation. It will also instil fear in their officers that people living with HIV should be hooded as a precaution, and leaves us at ACTup with no choice but to advise all those living with HIV in Bristol never to reveal their HIV status to officers in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. People living with HIV and under effective treatment pose no risk of transmission to anyone, even when practicing riskier practices than spitting and the message of undetectable=untransmissible, whereby with modern treatments there is no risk of infection, should be a cause of celebration for the success in human ingenuity in overcoming a worldwide epidemic.
The message sent out this week by Avon and Somerset Police is that we are back in the 80s as far as the police are concerned, and the people being spat on in this situation are those people living with HIV, trying to lead normal and happy lives without the fear and mistrust that has accompanied an HIV diagnosis since the epidemic began.
We again call not for an apology, but for a public retraction and an admission that HIV cannot be passed in the way stated by the police. We will continue to request this to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, and then to the Independent Police Complaints Commission until this matter is resolved based on fact and not preying on people’s prejudices.
Please support our call for a public retraction and formal statement from Avon and Bristol Constabulary to set the record straight and not reduce HIV transmission stigma back to the 80s.
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