Breaking the silence
- Stigma, discrimination and HIV/AIDS |
Watson, Senior Staff Reporter
not the sort of life anyone would wish on his or her worst enemy. To
describe it as rough would be an understatement.
Latoya Smith is
17 years old and HIV positive. Since age 12, this soft-spoken teenager
has been running. Running away from her pain, trying desperately to find
love and affection, but instead may have contracted a disease she never
Outlook recently that she is still affected by the ghosts of the
five men who she said abducted her and brutally raped her. She was just
12 years old, but that didn't stop them from assaulting her. She ran
when the verdict came back and the only man she was able to recognise
was found not guilty by the Justice system. She could not believe the
system could have let her down so badly. She explained she was just a
child, yet the men who raped her got away with it.
When she was put
in a place of safety, she ran again, into the outstretched arms of men
she did not know, but who offered her the comfort and love she
"I got raped when
I was 12 years and that is where things started to go downhill for me,"
the teenager told Outlook. She explained that after the rape she
went to England, but ran away from home and was returned to Jamaica and
placed in another place of safety. While there a medical examination was
done and she was diagnosed with HIV. Latoya explained that it was the
scorn and the name calling which drove her to run away again from the
home. She ended up in Montego Bay, practically living on the streets.
"I was on the
streets when I met up with some ladies who work at the Jamaica AIDS
Support office and they took me to the office," Latoya said.
"I've had a rough
life, you wouldn't understand. I face a lot of discrimination and my
mother blames everybody and me for everything that has happened to me.
It is really stressful."
It is estimated
that one in 20 teenagers could die of AIDS. Between January and June
2002, adolescent females in the age group 15-19 years old were three
times more likely to be HIV positive. And between 1982 and June 2002, 66
females aged 15-19 had contracted HIV. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of
death for women aged 20-29 in Jamaica.
Outlook that her mother has lived overseas for 13-14 years and she
"has not had a decent conversation with me since" (she was diagnosed).
"She sey she already lose me (she is dead as far as her mother is
concerned). Every day I am like mommy come out, all I want is for you to
be with me."
She is also
reluctant to return to her home in another rural parish.
"I went back to
(parish), but I was uncomfortable. Majority of the people doesn't like
me, and they say all kinds of bad things to me. It was very stressful,
so I came back to MoBay," she noted.
"To tell you the
truth, I don't know if I got HIV from the rape or afterwards. I was just
looking for somebody to care and love me."
Mark, who is also
HIV positive and is a sort of mentor for Latoya, said she "has had a
past of both neglect by parents as well as being a wayward child."
"She had been out
there with all kinds of adult men and they do all sorts of things with
her." In her quest for comfort, he explained she may even have infected
a few men, but he along with others have been trying to get her to
understand and cope with the infection as well as to act responsibly.
She has stopped running now and is talking about going to school.
"I want to finish
my schooling so I can be a journalist later on. I love to read and I
think I will also do a bit of counselling especially of young girls like