Paige Rawl was 12 years old when she told her best friend that she has HIV. She’s had the virus since birth — her mother unknowingly contracted it from her father, who eventually left the family.
“I didn’t really fully understand what exactly I was telling my friend at the time,” Rawl, now a 19-year-old college student, told me. “I didn’t really understand what having this disease could mean until after I started getting the reactions from other people.”
Those reactions were devastating. Paige’s admission quickly spread through her Indianapolis middle school. Rawl’s schoolmates — even her friends — responded by mocking and ostracizing her. They refused to use the water fountain after her, afraid they’d get the disease, too. She was beat up and called names. Rawl went to the school counselor for help. Her advice to Rawl? Tell her friends that she didn’t have HIV after all.