Domestic Violence Affects Women Living with HIV at 2 Times National Rate; Trauma Increases Chances of Becoming Infected and Complicates Treatment

AIDS United hosts congressional briefing to address the intersection of domestic violence and HIV among women.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, more than 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience significant physical or sexual violence in their lives, often perpetrated by current or former intimate partners, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, the rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) and other trauma is even higher among women living with HIV. According to one meta-analysis published in AIDS and Behavior, among U.S. women living with HIV:

•  55% experience intimate partner violence (IPV) — two times the national rate.
•  61% have been sexually abused — five times the national rate.
•  30% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — five times the national rate.

Another study (Psychosomatic Medicine) shows that this heightened level of trauma further complicates HIV treatment and can accelerate the progression of HIV, making women sicker and consequently more likely to transmit HIV to others.

“Clearly, addressing violence and trauma is an essential tool for preventing HIV transmission and helping women living with HIV better engage in care,” said Dr. Vignetta Charles, Ph.D., senior vice president of AIDS United, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States through strategic grant-making, capacity building, formative research and policy. “Women who are exposed to IPV are more likely to engage in behaviors that put them at higher risk for HIV, and they face several physiological and psychosocial factors that also put them at higher risk. In addition, HIV is a risk factor for IPV, often because disclosure of your status may trigger violence.”

At a congressional briefing held Oct. 13, AIDS United urged greater collaboration from all stakeholders—including federal partners and community advocates — to address this critical intersection of women, violence, trauma and HIV. The standing room only briefing was sponsored by AIDS United in cooperation with the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, and co-chaired by U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The briefing, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, brought together representatives from more than 35 congressional offices, numerous federal agencies, and many organizations and advocates already involved in HIV issues to discuss this critical intersection and to find areas for future collaboration and partnerships.

“Violence against women doesn’t go away with an HIV diagnosis,” added panelist Naina Khanna, executive director of the Positive Women’s Network USA. “HIV diagnosis may in fact exacerbate violence against women.” In fact, according to a study published in Maternal and Child Health Journal, 45% of women living with HIV have experienced physical abuse as a consequence of disclosing their serostatus.

The briefing follows the Friday, Oct. 10, release of the federal Working Group report on Addressing the Intersection of HIV, Violence against Women, and Gender-Related Health Disparities. The report summarizes progress made by federal partners and community organizations, and it identifies areas for future focus, including scaling up effective interventions to help women who have experienced violence and greater outreach to communities with high rates of HIV infection.

“We applaud the efforts of our federal partners. AIDS United and our community stakeholders are also increasing our efforts. In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we hope that this congressional briefing highlights the incredible actions being taken by federal agencies and community organizations and will also inspire congressional leaders to respond to the needs of women at risk for and living with HIV,” summarized Dr. Charles.

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Download our 1-pager on the intersection between women, violence, and HIV here.
Download the briefing presentation here.