This month Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV) has stood alongside individuals, communities, and organizations across the United States in recognizing October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. At the community level, we’ve worked to highlight the impact of domestic violence against women, LGBTQ communities, and their families. We’ve made the link between forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, interpersonal violence, intimate partner violence, and domestic violence, and forms of structural and state violence. We’ve worked to highlight the disproportionate impact on communities most at the margins, including Black women and LGBTQ communities. We understand that so much of the work that needs to be done in New Orleans and across the Deep South requires a recognition of the ways gender-based violence follows larger social policies of disposability and social control targeting women, especially women of color and and poor women.
Today WWAV is proud to stand in solidarity with organizations across the country bringing attention to another community that sits at the intersections of violence, stigma, and discrimination – women living with HIV. Spearheaded by the Positive Women’s Network USA (PWN-USA), October 23rd is the National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV. The day of recognition was founded by PWN-USA two years ago to bring to light the stories and experiences of women living with HIV who have been impacted by violence and trauma.
According to PWN-USA, nationally, 1 out of 3 women will experience violence or abuse at the hands of an intimate partner in her lifetime. For women living with HIV, that figure is even higher – a shocking 1 out of 2. Women living with HIV also bear an overwhelmingly high burden of violence and abuse – 3 in every 4 women living with HIV in the U.S. reports a history of some form of gender-based violence.
Studies have shown that women and girls with a history of violence, abuse, and trauma are already at a higher risk of acquiring HIV. Some women and girls experiencing domestic violence may be forced to have sex with an infected partner or be unable to negotiate safe sex practices and get the services they need to protect themselves. Moreover, the effects of stigma, HIV criminalization laws, discrimination, and economic insecurity leave many HIV+ women more vulnerable to abusive relationships, and some have faced violence and even murder after disclosing their HIV status.
The disparity is greater for communities of marginalized women living with HIV who face intersecting forms of systemic oppression, marginalization, and already high rates of violence and trauma – including many of the populations Women With A Vision works with in New Orleans: incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated women and girls, sex workers, low-income women, homeless women, women of color, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and girls. The stigma that accompanies their HIV positive status places these already marginalized and vulnerable communities even further at risk for violence.
Women living with HIV can face violence in their own homes from family or intimate partners, at the community level through stigma and discrimination, as well as at the institutional level through policies and laws that disproportionately target marginalized communities (drug laws, housing bans, over-policing) and through policies that control and police women’s bodies (restrictions on reproductive health care access and education). According to PWN-USA, women living with HIV in the U.S. are more likely to die from violence, trauma, and the effects of a lifetime of abuse, than HIV-related causes. Violence and trauma are particularly devastating for women of color, young women, low-income women, and transgender women.
Many of these communities face the cumulative effects of a lifetime of trauma. Some 30 percent of women living with HIV have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is five times the rate in the general female population. When the intersections of violence and trauma go unaddressed by policymakers or service providers, communities are further marginalized and locked out of the services they need to survive, live, and thrive.
WWAV stands in solidarity with groups across the country pushing not only for societal changes that would impact how women with HIV are treated at home and in their communities, but also for structural changes, including policy changes that could target the structural disparities faced by women living with HIV. This would include the elimination of laws that criminalize HIV status and restrict sexual and reproductive rights and education. We instead need laws and policies that allow better access to low-cost medication and services, higher wages, affordable housing, and education.
This month take a moment to listen to the stories of women who have survived domestic violence, and today take a moment to support groups across the country working to end violence against women living with HIV.
This statement was originally posted on the Women with a Vision website and is reposted with permission.