December 17, 2010
A recent study finds 78 percent of HIV-positive women in four Latin American countries report some type of physical or psychological abuse from a loved one. By the time they became infected, many of the women already had a long history of abuse and gender violence that made them more vulnerable, according to "Two Sides of One Reality: Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay."
Researchers interviewed 399 HIV-positive women for the study. Seventy percent said they had endured psychological abuse, and 55.6 percent reported physical violence. Perpetrators included parents, stepparents, caretakers, and boyfriends or husbands.
Approximately 60 percent of the women said they had seen their mothers suffer from domestic violence, only to face similar abuse themselves.
"The family, supposed shelter for one's affective world, does not seem to be the safest environment for many of these women," said physician Mabel Bianco and sociologist Andrea Mariño, the study's leaders. "There is a 'naturalization' of violence in the lives of many of these women from childhood. They don't register that this isn't normal, that it is a crime."
Many of the women said they were surprised when told they were HIV-positive: They did not consider themselves to be part of a high-risk group, since they were in stable, heterosexual relationships. "I thought this could never happen to me," said one participant.
"The women who suffered violence over the course of their lives are more vulnerable to HIV infection because, in general, they lose autonomy, self-esteem, and also the power to negotiate the use of condoms," said Mariño.