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What Do Professionals Need to Know?

Health Care

Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS

There are a variety of ways that domestic violence may put victims of domestic violence at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS; ways in which abusers use their own or the victim's HIV+ status as a weapon of coercion; and additional obstacles to health and safety that exist for HIV+ people who are also victims of domestic violence.

How Domestic Violence Puts Victims at Risk of Contracting HIV

  • Victims are often unable to negotiate the use of safer sex practices with coercive partners.
  • Abusers may rape or sexually assault their victims as part of their pattern of control, making it unlikely that the abuser will use a condom. In fact, some abusers may intentionally infect their partners with HIV in an attempt to keep the victim from leaving.
  • Abusive partners who engage in sexual activity outside the relationship, potentially expose victims to STD’s including HIV.
  • Abusive partners may force victims to engage in sexual activities with others.
  • Victims of domestic violence often suffer a wide range of health-related problems caused or exacerbated by the abuse. This negative effect on their health may compromise their immune system in ways that increase their risk of HIV.
  • Abusers may prevent victims from receiving medical care which may, in turn, negatively impact their health and increase their risk of contracting HIV.
Ways in which Abusers Use Their Own or Victims' HIV+ Status as a Weapon of Coercion
  • Threats to reveal HIV+ status to children, family, friends, employer.
  • Threatening to use victim’s HIV+ status as grounds for paternal custody.
  • Reinforcing a victim’s guilt about the HIV+ status of children.
  • Sexually humiliating or degrading the victim for having HIV. Telling the victim s/he is "dirty" or undesirable.
  • Isolating the victim on the basis that s/he poses a threat of infection to others.
  • Threatening or refusing to assist the victim when s/he is sick.
  • Abusers may use victim’s HIV+ status as an excuse for their violence.
  • Abusers who are HIV+ may fake illness in order to convince victims not to leave or to woo them back if they have left.
  • Abusers who are HIV+ and who require care giving may be successful at manipulating victims into providing care.
Obstacles to Health and Safety for HIV+ Victims
  • The abuser often controls access to financial resources, medical care, and support systems. As the disease progresses, the victim becomes less able to care for herself, more dependent on the abuser, and increasingly trapped in the relationship.
  • Leaving may raise an array of concerns about care giving, failing health, and the stigma of having HIV/AIDS. Many victims may believe that their only hope for a relationship is to stay with their current partner no matter how abusive the relationship may be.
  • For victims with an AIDS diagnosis, they may be on disability or another fixed income and therefore, financially dependent on their partners for money to survive and pay for costly drugs and treatment.
  • A victim with children may be particularly reluctant to leave out of concern for the care of her children should she become incapacitated by the disease.
  • Lesbian and gay victims may have even less of a support network of family and friends if they’ve been ostracized because of their sexual orientation.
  • Victims who are HIV+ may be discriminated against in their attempts to get help; i.e., they may not be able to access emergency shelter, housing, etc.
  • Victims who are HIV+ may fear that HIV+ status is more likely to be disclosed if they reach out for safety-related assistance.
  • Victims who are HIV+ may fear that if they seek services related to their HIV+ status, partner notification practices will put them at risk of further violence.