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Women, Domestic Violence and HIV

May 2013

Table of Contents


Introduction

Domestic violence can happen to anyone. It affects people regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, education level, financial situation, or marital status. It is important to learn about how abuse happens, how to identify it, and how to end it or get away from it. If you are feeling threatened right now, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence hotline in the US at 800-799-SAFE [1-800-799-7233; or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

It is important to remember that, if someone threatens you, it is NOT your fault. You deserve to be treated with respect and to be safe. Often, women who have been abused have been humiliated to the point that they believe that they deserve whatever abuse comes their way. This is NEVER true.


What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence occurs when a person you are dating, living with, or married to is repeatedly harmful or threatening to you -- physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally, or financially. The person doing these things will often do them to gain or keep power and control. "Intimate partner violence" is another term used to describe violence in which a current or former partner or spouse physically, sexually, or psychologically harms you.

Domestic violence can take many forms. These include:

Domestic violence often begins with threats or emotional abuse. While these harmful words or actions may or may not lead to actual physical harm, they can still be very upsetting and scary, and leave long-term emotional scars.

While most domestic violence involves men assaulting women, it can also involve men assaulting their male partners, or women assaulting their male or female partners. Studies have shown that domestic violence can happen as often in same sex couples as it can in heterosexual couples.


Women, HIV, and Domestic Violence

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Domestic violence occurs more often in relationships in which there is a difference in power. Women living with someone who is larger or stronger than they are may feel physically afraid. Also, women usually earn less than men and are more likely to be financially dependent on others. If the person a woman lives with is the one who pays the bills and provides her with a home, the woman may feel afraid, less independent, and in less control.

There are several ways in which domestic violence and HIV are connected for women. Women who are abused may not be comfortable asking their partner to use protection during sex. Similarly, women in abusive relationships may not be comfortable saying no to sex if their abusive partner refuses to use protection when asked. Lastly, forced sex acts can cause cuts or scrapes that make it easier for HIV to enter the body. All of these can put women at higher risk for HIV, and make living with HIV (being HIV+) more difficult.

Many women with HIV have a history of being physically or sexually abused before they found out about their HIV status. Several studies have shown that women with a history of physical and/or sexual abuse are more likely to become HIV+, especially if that abuse first started during childhood years. Childhood abuse is closely linked with later drug use, having multiple sexual partners, being with a male partner who is at a higher risk of HIV infection, and exchanging sex for drugs, money, or shelter. If a woman uses drugs, alcohol, or sex to escape the pain of prior abuse, she may be at increased risk of getting infected due to sharing needles and having unprotected sex. All of these factors place a woman who has been abused at a higher risk for getting HIV.

Many women may be at risk of abuse or violence because they tell their partner or the person they live with about their HIV status. One study revealed that over one in four women with HIV had been physically harmed since their HIV diagnosis. Therefore, it is important to disclose your HIV status safely (see below).


Questions to Ask Yourself or Someone Who May Have Been Abused

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:


Danger Signs in a Partner or Potential Partner

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:


Disclosing Safely

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:


Decreasing Your Risk

There are no guarantees, but you can help lower your risk for domestic violence:


Leaving a Violent Relationship

It is never easy to leave a relationship, and it can be especially difficult to leave one that involves domestic violence. The key is to have a safety plan.

If you suffer from domestic 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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