A woman (I will call her Ann) called PROTOTYPES a few months ago. Ann was a friend of a co-worker at PROTOTYPES who asked me to speak with her. Ann is HIV+ and the mother of a two year old girl. When Ann called, she was crying and she told me that she had been hit that morning and that her partner had been physically, verbally and emotionally abusing her for a few years. Ann was not willing to leave her abuser - she only wanted the violence to stop. After listening to her story, I encouraged her to seek the assistance of a battered woman's advocate and gave her the number of a local domestic violence hotline. I let Ann know that she was not alone and that there were caring and knowledgeable people available to help her. I also assured her that any information she shared would be strictly confidential. I told her to call me if she needed additional information.
Ann's courage to share with me that she was being battered and to ask for help prompted me to realize that there are other women like her who are HIV infected and in abusive relationships. Ann was not ready to make changes with her partner, but she was arming herself with information and beginning to create a support system to be there for her. Ann needs to decide what is right for her and when it is right. More than 2 million women are battered every year in the U.S. Battery is the single largest cause of injury to women. Over half of all women seeking help in hospital emergency rooms are there because of Domestic Violence. This crime is under-reported because many women are afraid to call the police. Some don't even identify themselves as being battered. A women who is HIV infected may want to look at the many possible sources of stress in her life. If a women is also being battered the tension of her HIV infection can become overwhelming. Battered women may become immobilized
by fear and exhausted by repeated attempts to end the violence. This may delay her from receiving necessary treatment for HIV disease, AIDS or substance abuse and inhibit her from accessing the support she needs.
In order to comprehend how violence against women impacts women with HIV/AIDS, we must begin to understand what constitutes violence against women. We must begin to see that violence against women can be physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual. We must begin to understand that there is violence against women of color as well as white women, poor women as well as middle class and rich women, heterosexual women as well as lesbian women. We must especially begin to understand that women are not to blame for being abused - and that battered women deserve to be treated with respect, understanding and care.
Battered women may have endured abuse for long periods of time and a combination of low self-esteem, terror, and sometimes substance abuse, make it less likely that they will take the initiative to seek help for themselves. Often, battered women have sought help at some time in the past from family, friends, clergy or the police, but these attempts at obtaining help may not have succeeded. Often the very people battered women turn to, make them feel more guilty and ashamed.
There are many reasons (psychological, economic, cultural and religious) why a woman does not leave a relationship in which she is battered. Being HIV positive does not make these reasons any less vital. HIV infected women may be unwilling even to bring up AIDS issues for fear of angering their partners, being abused, and ultimately, losing them. These are the ways women have learned to survive.
Fifty percent of all women are battered during some time in their lives, one third repeatedly. Generally, once a person begins to batter a partner, the violence becomes more severe and frequent unless some kind of intervention occurs. Three out of four murdered women are killed by their husbands or lovers. Domestic violence transcends all socio-economic, cultural and educational backgrounds. It can happen to any woman.
Is It Happening To You?
If you feel isolated, alone, scared, and trapped you may be caught in a battering relationship. Nobody "deserves" to be beaten or abused. There is a way out. You can ask for help. Remember, you do not have to be hit to be battered. Some feelings battered women share are:
- You are frightened by your partner's temper.
- You feel intimidated by your partner.
- You often give in because you are afraid of your partner's reaction.
- You find yourself being criticized for daily things, such as your cooking, clothes, appearance.
- You are humiliated or degraded by name calling, put-downs, accusations, shouting, criticizing or swearing at you.
- Your partner withholds approval, appreciation or affection as punishment.
- Your partner makes frequent threats to withhold money, resources, take away the children or have an affair.
- You apologize to yourself or others for your partner's behavior when you are treated badly.
- You have been stopped from seeing family or friends.
- You feel isolated and alone.
- Your partner is jealous of your other relationships, and as you feel you have nowhere else to turn, you become more dependent on him or her.
- You need your partner's permission for everything. Your partner must know where you have been and to whom you have talked.
- You have been forced or pressured into having sex.
- You have been kicked, hit , shoved, restrained or had thingsthrown at you by your partner.
- There is a pattern of violence in your relationships.
- If only you would "act right", your partner wouldn't have to hit you.
- You live in fear of what will happen next or that you can't survive financially alone. You think your partner is capable of killing you.
- After a beating, you try to explain away your injuries, saying you're accident prone.
- You believe your partner's accusations that you are stupid, worthless, and never do anything "right". You have no confidence inyour ability to live without your partner.
Concerns Specific To Women With HIV/AIDS May Be:
- Your partner makes you feel ashamed, dirty, or like nobody else would want you because of your HIV status.
- Your partner will not use a condom or latex protection.
- Your partner threatens to disclose your HIV status.
- You neglect your health needs out of fear (physical and emotional).
- You are afraid to leave your partner because you feel you will not be able to support yourself and your children due to your HIV status.
- You feel ashamed about being battered and being HIV infected and so you do not seek help. The thought of a major change, such as leaving your partner can be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider. You may have thought about doing so a million times before, but there is always something to keep you there.
How Can I get Help?
Remember! You are not alone. There are people in the community who understand what's happening to you, and are available to help you. Whether you decide to remain in the relationship or leave, you can get help.
Here Are Some Different Types Of Referrals:
24 hour availability. Your call will be treated confidentially and you can remain anonymous.
Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women
24hr. (213) 392-8381
TTD (213) 651-4610
There are short-term and long-term counseling programs specifically for battered women. Call a battering hotline for a referral.
PROTOTYPES Women's Center
Residential treatment, outpatient services, and prenatal services.
(909) 624-1233, (800) 427-1792
Battered women support groups are for women who want to explore different options. Groups meet for 10 weeks or longer and some are drop-in.
Shelters provide a safe haven away from the violence so that you can figure out what your next steps will be. Their location is confidential. Different shelters provide a range of services such as counseling, legal help, financial assistance and emotional support.
Center for Pacific Asian Families
East Los Angeles Shelter
24hr Spanish: (213) 268-7564
Haven Hills (818) 887-6589
24hr (213) 681-2626
Jenesse Center, Los Angeles
Treatment programs are an option for abusive partners to learn how to control themselves. They can be court mandated.
If your partner has physically abused you, he/she has committed a crime and the police have the authority to arrest. They also have the ability to get a temporary restraining order.
Friends and Family
Now is the time to reach out to your friends for help. If you feel embarrassed or believe that no one understands, think about how you'd want to help a friend, if she was in the same situation as you.
There are legal resources in the community including a place to obtain a free restraining order. If you do not have any money, do not let that stop you from getting help. Many resources are free or on a sliding scale.
Los Angeles Bar Association Barristers
Domestic Violence Counseling Project
Los Angeles Free Clinic
Protección Legal Femenina/Legal Protection for Women
With support, help, & the right info., making changes is easier. Call the numbers listed here. You will see that change is possible. The first step is up to you.