By Loren Jones
Board Member, Positive Women’s Network-USA
As a 63-year-old black woman who has lived with the HIV virus for over thirty years, it is startling to know how much I blend in with the statistics regarding violence in the lives of HIV+ women. This factor, which changes how we deal with sexual risk, begins long before we are diagnosed with HIV. For many of us, it becomes normalized almost at birth, depending on where we are raised. The hand that rocks the cradle raises us to not “talk back” and “do as you’re told.” Offenses against these rules result in withdrawal of affection, slapping, whipping and name-calling. We learn at a very early age that the path of least resistance and peace from constant bickering and emotional abuse is to avoid confrontation and just go along with the irrational, ignoring common sense or what you know to do better. Inner city experiences of neighborhood murders of women of color, often by their husbands, get only about two days worth of media. And besides, you’ll hear, she probably deserved it.
We are all born innocent, so when our first experience of rape comes almost immediately on the heels of our first consensual sexual experience and involves being told to “shut up” and “lay down” with your head under the steering wheel of a dark car, under a dark bridge, with a dark man who seemed nice and polite when you met him, you soon learn that if you just do what he wants, then he may let you live.
As life goes on, we learn to avoid emotional pain, abandonment and isolation by giving in and doing as we’re told. We keep our lovers, jobs and homes by giving in. Church tells us to obey our husbands, do not leave or suggest or accuse our men of possible unfaithfulness. It is our duty to do as we are told in submissive obedience.
After years and years of disappointment, emotional misuse of who we are, and now HIV–how do we heal?
That is the question. We know the statistics of all types of violence against women. Now is the time to start counting the number of lives that we can really turn around for the better.