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Domestic violence and HIV/AIDS: A toxic link

GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 12/6/2012, 1:38 p.m.
Honoring 20 years of providing HIV/AIDS services in Harlem

A woman living with HIV/AIDS is twice as likely to be the victim of domestic violence, according to a study released this past summer at the International World AIDS Conference in Washington D.C.

"Gender-based violence (GBV) increases both the acquiring and transmitting of HIV, and having HIV may increase the risk of abuse," said Kathleen Weber, a physician at CORE Center/Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago. Weber presented results from the Women's Interagency HIV Study at the World AIDS Conference in July. Weber said the study revealed a disturbing trend among women with or at risk for HIV.

"Between 24 to 78 percent of these women report a history of domestic violence [from a partner or relative]," she said.

The comprehensive study examined a group of 2,222 women between the ages of 30 and 55--1,642 of whom were HIV-positive, from Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Nearly three quarters of all of the women in the study were African-American.

Researchers visited the women for several intervals every six months and asked them questions about living with HIV/AIDS and how they were being treated by their spouse, partner or relative. The researchers characterized abuse as threatening physical or emotional harm; forced sexual contact; or refusing to allow someone to leave the home or contact friends or relatives.

"Taking all vulnerabilities into account and adjusting for these issues, recent abuse was associated with a two times higher risk of death [for a woman with HIV at the hands of a spouse or partner]," Weber said.

In total, 78 percent of the women in the study reported a lifetime history of abuse; 437 women died and 94 percent of them were HIV-positive. The average age of the HIV-positive women who died was 34, and nearly three quarters of the women who died were African-American.

To view the complete study online, visit the Women's Interagency HIV Study at https://statepiaps.jhsph.edu.