A teen who has had HIV since she was 12 revealed that her school and community shunned her.
Paige Rawl was born with HIV after contracting it from her mom and tested positive for the disease when she was just 12 years old. At that time, she also found out that her father died of AIDS in 2000.
The 18-year-old thought she could trust her best friend and told her about her diagnosis. Her friend, however, spread the news all over her school.
“I was constantly afraid of what people were going to say to me next,” she said, “of what they would leave on my locker next.”
“People thought I must have been … you know,” she said, “a slut.”
The cruel taunts she received at school became too much to handle, so she gave up her place on the soccer team, show choir, and cheerleading. She eventually chose to be home schooled to get away from the constant taunts.
“I went from having tons of friends to hardly having any,” she said. “I had a note left on my lockers saying “no AIDS at this school.”
Being home schooled eventually made Rawl feel isolated, so she enrolled at another school when she reached the 9th grade. Luckily, peers and staff members were much more supportive there.
Rawl is no longer ashamed of her disease and is trying to fight the negativity that surrounds the disease.
“I tell people, HIV doesn’t define who I am. There’s no certain face to HIV. This type of disease doesn’t discriminate,” she said.
The Indianapolis teen will begin college at Ball State University in the fall. She plans to study molecular biology so that she can research HIV/AIDS drugs. Rawl also is working on a book that focuses on her experience with HIV.