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HIV And Domestic Violence

By September 20, 2010 - 9:34am

Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D.
Director of Prevention and Wellness, Southwest Center for HIV/ AIDS

Female victims of domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS because many are unable to protect themselves from their potentially infected partners. Unlike those in non-abusive partnerships, survivors do not have the liberty to negotiate safe-sex practices such as using condoms or practicing abstinence. Because there is a severe imbalance of power in abusive relationships, moreover, many survivors are unable to promptly leave their partners—should she suspect that he is being unfaithful, abusing substances, or engaging in other risky activities.

Providing timely intervention services to survivors of domestic violence are also challenging. First, locating the survivors is difficult. HIV/AIDS screenings are typically done in health care settings. Survivors, on the other hand, more frequently seek assistance from law enforcement. They typically only seek medical services after severe beatings—when emergency room care is absolutely necessary. Second, some abusers may also deny their victims from accessing timely treatments and screenings for HIV/AIDS. Lastly, the survivors, themselves, may be reluctant to be tested for HIV/AIDS. In fact, according to one published study, survivors of domestic violence were less likely to believe they were infected by their partners than were survivors of sexual assault by their attackers. Many survivors of domestic violence, as a result, may overlook the importance of being tested because they may believe that they “fully know their partners.”

Southwest Center for HIV/ AIDS is developing a partnership with Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health to address Intimate Partner Violence. We are expanding our Women’s Program to reach domestic violence service agencies in the Arizona. We will be offering education, testing and referrals to those women who are at-risk for and impacted by HIV and other STD’s.

If you or someone you know is HIV positive and experiencing intimate partner violence, develop a safety plan.

Stay safe. Remember that you are most in danger of being hurt or killed as you are leaving or immediately afterward. Make your safety (and that of your children) your top priority.

Be prepared. If you leave, don't forget your HIV drugs and any other medications you take, medical records, birth certificate, credit cards, checkbook, etc. Assume that anything you leave may end up in the dumpster. It may help to leave an emergency kit with some of these items with a trusted friend, family member, or service provider. If you don’t want to give the name of the person you’re afraid of, you can put it in a sealed envelope and ask them to open it only if you disappear or turn up too injured to identify the person who hurt you.

Document. Get medical attention if needed and get photos of any injuries that show. Have photos signed and dated by medical or law enforcement personnel if possible. A friend or family member can also sign and date for future evidence.

Get help. Don't try to do this alone. Go to friends, the police, family, an emergency room, or a local shelter. Call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-SAFE.

Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D.
Director of Prevention and Wellness, Southwest Center for HIV/ AIDS

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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