Blake Anthony Willows became positive in 2007 when he was raped at a house party. He was just 21-years-old. Five years on he is finally over the trauma and depression that followed and has slowly started to piece his life back together again.
Blake was a young party boy visiting Brighton for the weekend in September 2007 when he was raped at a house party. Someone dropped a rape drug into his drink and he woke up many hours later bleeding from his behind.
I asked Blake the obvious first question; did he report it to the police?
“I never reported it to the police. I didn’t think they would take it seriously. I was young and scared.”
Blake went along to the Lawson Unit and was given PEPS, the short, intensive HIV prevention treatment administered over a one month period. Unfortunately the treatment didn’t work and Blake tested HIV positive shortly afterwards.
Following his diagnosis he moved to Brighton permanently to be near good HIV services and part of a ‘caring’ local gay community. During the next two years his life spiralled downwards. He sunk into a deep depression and used alcohol to deal with the pain.
Blake came out to his family when he was 18. He was brought up by his gran, a Scottish catholic who he says: “loved him to bits” and somewhat reluctantly accepted his diagnosis and his gayness. His coming out split his family apart. His mother and father pushed him away and his father has not spoken to him for the last eight years.
During the first year after diagnosis, he didn’t tell anyone about his status. He suffered deep depressions and attempted suicide. After the suicide attempt, friends were quite inquisitive so he started telling some of those closest to him, who he thought were good friends, what had caused his suicide attempt.
“Some people were very judgmental and said I deserved what happened to me. I lost all my friends in London and more than half my Brighton friends just stopped calling and texting me. It was a traumatic time and very difficult for me to deal with. When I was at my lowest ebb after trying to take my life I was just abandoned by people who I trusted and took into my confidence.”
Blake grew up in Nottingham and left school with good qualifications before going to performing arts school. He was bullied at school for being open and flamboyant but blossomed when he went on to study performing arts where the fun aspects of his personality were a hit with the other students.
“I now realise I was bullied at school because I was camp. I didn’t realise that I was different at the time but over the years I’ve learnt to present myself in a different way. I now speak in a lower voice which helps, but I should be able to be who I am and not worry about those sort of things, especially in Brighton in 2012.”
As Blake’s world fell apart following his diagnosis he got no support from his family. Many of his friends abandoned him so he left Brighton and spent the next three years running away from his emotional problems.
At different times he popped up in Bournemouth, Manchester, Torquay and Wales before returning to Brighton where, after receiving counselling, he is much more confident to deal with the stigma attached to his diagnosis.
When he meets someone he always tells them quickly about his status. He finds he gets knocked back 75% of the time but the other 25% of people are generally supportive towards him.
Five years on Blake has got his life back together. He goes to the gym regularly, eats healthily and both his CD count and Viral load are good and he has yet to need any HIV combination drugs.
“After my diagnosis I went off the rails. I was depressed and drank too much. I let myself go and allowed myself to become and act like a victim. I’m much more confident now and I’ve come to terms with everything that a positive diagnosis brings. I think positively all the time. It’s the only way.”
Blake has just started a new job nursing older people with dementia which he loves. He has found himself a new flat and has surrounded himself with a small group of reliable friends.
His biggest regret now is that he didn’t report the rape to the police in 2007.
“I didn’t report my situation to the police because I thought they wouldn’t take it seriously. If the same thing happened to me now I would report it to the police, not because my views of the police have changed but because, during the last five years I reached rock bottom and have slowly put my life back together.
“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. I have a new confidence in myself and don’t care anymore how the police would react.
“I just don’t want someone to be allowed to do to another 21-year-old what they did to me. For this reason whatever your concerns I would encourage anyone to report this type of incident or in fact any other Hate Crime to the police.”