Last week’s arrest of an African-Australian circus acrobat accused of transmitting HIV to a Queensland woman has, predictably, generated more than its fair share of media excitement.
In some ways it’s this particular case represents is a kind of perfect storm for reporting about criminality and HIV transmission: not only does the alleged perpetrator conveniently come from deepest, darkest Africa (racism is well and truly alive) but he’s devastatingly handsome and has conveniently left a trail of news-ready shirtless photos and even video of his appearances on a TV talent show.
Plus, he has “admitted to having sex with a number of women in several states” (in other words, he’s cooperating with the police investigation, although you won’t hear it put that way in the press) so we readily have the ‘hunt for victims’ angle and the story gets to run for days and days as we get trickle-fed details about his life and the trail of broken hearts he has presumably left in his wake.
At this point it bears pointing out that one woman on the Gold Coast has tested HIV-positive; she is the complainant that led to the investigation and his subsequent arrest and extradition. It has not yet been proven that he is the source of her HIV infection, and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence until such time as it is.
But you might think differently if you don’t read the media carefully (emphasis added in the following quotes):
AN HIV-infected circus performer who had sex with up to 12 women without telling them of his medical history will appear in a Queensland court today, as health authorities continue to search for the women involved. (‘Zimbabwe-born acrobat to be tried for infecting women with HIV’, The Australian 26 May)
A HIV-positive circus acrobat who appeared on Australia’s Got Talent has triggered a national health scare after allegations he had unprotected sex with at least 11 women, including some from NSW. (‘Hunt is on for HIV man’s partners’, Daily Telegraph 26 May)
Authorities fear at least 12 women may have been deliberately infected with the HIV virus by a Zimbabwe-born circus acrobat. (‘Circus acrobat accused of spreading HIV appeared on Australia’s Got Talent’, Brisbane Times 26 May)
GODFREY Zaburoni allegedly boasted about sleeping with more than 500 women and sometimes brought home three different girls a week, says one of his former flatmates. (‘Zaburoni’s drunken boast of conquests’, Gold Coast Bulletin 27 May)
THE tragic story that dozens — possibly hundreds — of young women may have been infected with HIV by one man is a timely reminder that more education is needed of this deadly modern plague. (‘Awareness of AIDS will save lives’, Gold Coast Bulletin editorial, 27 May)
Mr Zaburoni’s Facebook page has more than 300 friends, many women. (‘HIV man’s claim: I had Vic lovers’, Herald Sun 30 May)
Is this the evolution of a moral panic? One woman has been confirmed HIV-positive, then within days there are 11, 12, dozens, hundreds of women imagined by the media to have been infected with HIV. Then to top it off we have the crucial detail that his Facebook profile “has more than 300 friends, many women.” So has mine, and probably yours.