This sure hasn’t been the best week ever for pop and R&B musician Usher—or his public relations team. Just days after court documents were released revealing that the singer had been sued in 2012 for passing herpes to a partner, another woman has come forward and slapped Usher with a 10 million dollar lawsuit for exposing her to a sexually transmitted infection, according to the New York Daily News.
The first lawsuit was settled in 2012, after Usher (whose real name is Usher Raymond IV) shelled out $1.1 million to the plaintiff, an unnamed female stylist who claims she contracted herpes from the singer. The current suit was filed just a few days ago, almost immediately after the documents from the first lawsuit were released last week by Radar Online.
The plaintiff in the new lawsuit (referred to only as “Jane Doe” in the documents) claims that the married entertainer had unprotected oral and vaginal sex with her and never disclosed that he had herpes. Doe says she only discovered that Usher had the STI after the court documents from the first suit were released. Interestingly, she does not claim to have contracted the STI, but is seeking damages for “negligence, battery, and emotional distress” after unknowingly being exposed to the virus.
Now, there is a lot of debate going on these days about civil and criminal cases such as these, which prosecute people for transmitting or not disclosing STIs. One of the biggest issues, many feel, is that the increased criminalization of those living with STIs only leads to increased stigma and ignorance.
Actor Charlie Sheen, who is HIV-positive, has also been sued twice now by women claiming damages for being "exposed" to HIV, though neither woman has claimed to have contracted the virus. Sheen also says his viral load is undetectable, which means the virus cannot be transmitted to his sexual partners — a fact that isn’t widely known, but one that his current girlfriend, Julia Stambler, wants to educate people about.
Two other major gray areas that exist in these types of cases are: proving when, how, and from whom an STI was transmitted, and deciphering “blame.” Advocates argue that cases like these — and sensationalized media coverage of them — further villainize those living with STIs by painting their partners as “victims,” rather than a consenting partner who also chose not to use protection.
Sure, most would say that a responsible, sexually active person should disclose any STI risk to their partners, but that it is not the argument here. It is whether or not someone should be sued, criminalized or thrown in jail for non-disclosure or exposure of an STI.
In fact, a lot of the controversy exists around the harsh sentencing and discriminatory laws that are currently in effect in most states, which often single out and target those living with HIV. Recently, an HIV-positive Florida man was arrested on several counts having to do with non-disclosure and exposure, and if convicted, could spend the rest of his life in jail due to the state’s stiff sentences for these types of charges.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years in the U.S. have genital herpes, so Usher certainly isn’t alone. Yet the singer is being singled out and publicly humiliated for having an STI due to his celebrity status.
Ultimately, it is stigma that fuels these types of laws and lawsuits against those living with STIs — and in turn, it’s these types of laws and lawsuits that continue to keep that stigma alive.