Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D.
Director of Prevention and Wellness, Southwest Center for HIV/ AIDS
Female victims of domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS because many are unable to protect themselves from their potentially infected partners. Unlike those in non-abusive partnerships, survivors do not have the liberty to negotiate safe-sex practices such as using condoms or practicing abstinence. Because there is a severe imbalance of power in abusive relationships, moreover, many survivors are unable to promptly leave their partners—should she suspect that he is being unfaithful, abusing substances, or engaging in other risky activities.
Providing timely intervention services to survivors of domestic violence are also challenging. First, locating the survivors is difficult. HIV/AIDS screenings are typically done in health care settings. Survivors, on the other hand, more frequently seek assistance from law enforcement. They typically only seek medical services after severe beatings—when emergency room care is absolutely necessary. Second, some abusers may also deny their victims from accessing timely treatments and screenings for HIV/AIDS. Lastly, the survivors, themselves, may be reluctant to be tested for HIV/AIDS. In fact, according to one published study, survivors of domestic violence were less likely to believe they were infected by their partners than were survivors of sexual assault by their attackers. Many survivors of domestic violence, as a result, may overlook the importance of being tested because they may believe that they “fully know their partners.”
Southwest Center for HIV/ AIDS is developing a partnership with Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health to address Intimate Partner Violence. We are expanding our Women’s Program to reach domestic violence service agencies in the Arizona. We will be offering education, testing and referrals to those women who are at-risk for and impacted by HIV and other STD’s.
If you or someone you know is HIV positive and experiencing intimate partner violence, develop a safety plan.