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December 4, 2012

When revealing HIV status turns deadly

(Continued)

But most important, instead of putting Bolden's HIV status on trial, let's recognize that for women like her, domestic violence is a serious and all-too-common issue. A recent report found that 55 percent of all women living with HIV/AIDS have experienced domestic violence, which is more than twice the rate of the general population. And violence isn't just a quick reaction to learning someone's status; it can be long term and calculating.

Recent results from the Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), the largest ongoing study about women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, found that between 24 and 78 percent of women living with HIV/AIDS -- as well as women with increased risk of HIV, such as those living in poverty or in an area with high HIV rates -- report a history of domestic violence. In addition, 78 percent of the women in the study reported a lifetime experience of abuse, and 36 percent experienced abuse that had occurred in the past three months.

Violence and trauma can kill HIV-positive women, and not for obvious reasons. That same WIHS report found that HIV-positive women experiencing recent trauma were 4.3 times more likely to have their AIDS medications fail and 50 percent more likely not to be in medical care. Researchers cited a range of reasons, including depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, that became barriers to adhering to medications and seeking care, even if care was accessible and available.

Naina Khanna, policy director at the Oakland-based Positive Women's Network USA, emphasizes that domestic violence can also be in the form of emotional abuse specifically aimed at HIV-positive women, such as withholding their medication, not allowing them to attend doctor's appointments or support groups and even threatening to reveal their status to others who may not know.

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