Monday, May 10, 2010

The character of Nushawn Williams

Nushawn Williams is an HIV-positive sex offender who has admitted to having unprotected sex with as many as 300 young women and girls, and who has infected at least 13 of them. In 1997, under a granted exception to the state of New York's HIV confidentiality law, public authorities released his name and picture to the media, deeming him a "public health threat" and the source of a "near epidemic" of HIV transmission. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape and reckless endangerment, and has been in jail ever since.

On April 13th, 2010, Williams' criminal sentence ended. Authorities successfully moved to keep Williams in jail under a 3-year-old civil law that allows extended confinement when one is deemed likely to offend again. Williams, whose family had been awaiting his release, remains in custody. His trial is tentatively set for October, though his lawyer will argue the extended confinement motion in late June.

In 2004, University of Minnesota Press published Notorious HIV: The Media Spectacle of Nushawn Williams, by Thomas Shevory. Through media reports, legal documents, and interviews, Shevory (who is also from Williams' hometown of Jamestown, NY) exposes the significant exaggerations, misunderstandings, and distortions that riddled this case from the start. Within the book, he shows how media coverage robs individuals like Williams of their humanity, creating a pervasive atmosphere of threat that warps the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice and penal system.

Read an excerpt from the book's first chapter, Moral Panic and Media Politics, here. You can also find out more about the book here.

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