Violence Against Women and HIV
March 5, 2015
Sometimes, it can be difficult to know if you or someone you know has been abused, because victims may confuse their partner's actions with a form of love or caring.
This list of questions might help you or someone you know identify the abusive actions of a partner or someone else in the home:
- Do you ever feel unsafe at home?
- Have you ever felt threatened by your partner, ex-partner, or other person in your home?
- Are you in a relationship where you have been physically hurt?
- Has a partner, ex-partner, or person you lived with ever:
- Pushed, grabbed, slapped, choked, or kicked you?
- Forced you to have sex or made you do sexual things you did not want to do?
- Threatened to hurt you, your children, or someone close to you?
- Stalked, followed, or monitored you (this includes checking your daily movements, emails, phone calls, and texts)?
- Kept you from seeing your friends or family? Told you where you could or could not go?
- Prevented you from getting a job, or limited your access to money?
While there may not be any one profile or way to identify someone who is an abuser, you may notice your partner acting in one or more of these ways. He/she may:
- Be overly jealous
- Have big mood swings
- Have an explosive temper
- Have low self-esteem
- Blame you for their own problems
- Use words to make you feel bad about yourself
- Try to control you (e.g., limiting where you go, how much money you have, what you buy)
- Try to keep you from your family or friends
Sadly, many women with HIV are sexually or physically assaulted soon after they disclose their HIV status. Try to decrease this risk with the following:
- Disclose in a semi-public place like a public park with many people around. Find a place that is private enough to have a conversation, but public enough to get help if you need it.
- Consider disclosing with a third person present, like a friend or a health care provider
- Meet only in public with that person until you feel safe
- Avoid exposing others to HIV without warning them ahead of time. The risk of violence may be greater if a person feels you knowingly put them at risk or lied to them. In the US, your county health department may have a program that can disclose for you anonymously (your name is not shared), or it may provide services to help you disclose safely.
There are no guarantees, but you can help lower your risk for domestic or intimate partner violence:
- Do your homework. To find out information on the person you are dating (such as if he or she has a violent criminal record), consider doing a background check. In the US, there are a number of companies that provide this service for a fee. For more information, go to: http://publicrecordssearchonline.org/
- Keep in touch with people who support you. Whether it is family, friends, a support group, peer advocate/counselor, or health care provider, do not let your relationship with any one person keep you from staying in touch with others.
- Get help and support. If you have been physically or sexually abused in the past, it is important to get help from a mental health professional or a support group. Otherwise, the past may be more likely to repeat itself.
- Avoid entering an abusive relationship. Be aware of the warning signs of abuse (described above), when starting relationships. If you see warning signs, the best time to leave an abuser is the first time it happens.
- Stay informed. Learn all you can about domestic violence, even if you think you will never need to know about it.
It is never easy to leave a relationship, and it can be especially difficult to leave one that involves domestic or intimate partner violence. The key is to have a safety plan.
- Stay safe. Leaving your partner or someone you live with can be upsetting to that person. Make your safety (and that of your children) your top priority.
- Be prepared. If you leave, do not 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 or used to find you. It may help to leave an emergency kit with some of these items with a trusted friend, family member, or service provider. If you do not want to give the name of the person you are afraid of, you can put it in a sealed envelope and ask them to open it only if you disappear or become 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. Do not try to do this alone. It may be awkward or embarrassing to reach out to others, but your health and life may be at risk. If you cannot seek help for yourself, think of those who love you and may depend on you. Go to friends, the police, family, an emergency room, or a local shelter. In the US, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE [1-800-799-7233; or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)].
If you suffer from domestic or intimate partner violence, always remember -- it is not your fault. It can happen to anyone. Anyone who physically, verbally, or sexually attacks another person is responsible for his or her actions. The most important thing is to get safe and stay safe.
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