National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV = Success

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October 23, 2015, was our second National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV (WLHIV)–and what a success it was! Thanks to an outpouring of support from our members, communities, allies and organizations working both in HIV and with intersectional issues:

  • Our Day of Action was endorsed by 92 organizations from around the world (see below) as well as an additional 84 individuals
  • Numerous and diverse organizations and individuals participated in our lively and informative Twitter Chat, co-hosted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (@nnedv), SisterLove Inc. (@SisterLove_Inc) and The Well Project (@TheWellProject), the morning of October 23, using our hashtags #EndVAWHIV and #PWNspeaks
  • Our Flashblog to #EndVAWHIV includes 18 contributions, including the stories of WLHIV impacted by violence and trauma, as well as posts on the topic and intersectional issues from organizations and individuals dedicated to working with WLHIV and domestic violence survivors, several of which were also featured on and
  • At least 6 diverse organizations posted statements of support for the Day of Action on their websites
  • Countless individuals and organizations changed their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures to our official Day of Action logo
  • Across the country, people heard and discussed the stories of overcoming violence of 5 PWN-USA members in the Kaiser Family Foundation film, Empowered, part of the Greater Than AIDS campaign (see video below)

The goal of our Day of Action is, of course, not only to raise awareness–a critical first step–but also to put forward solutions. One of the major initiatives PWN-USA is working toward is routine implementation of trauma-informed model of care for WLHIV, especially in clinics receiving federal Ryan White Program funding. We are also working to repeal laws that place WLHIV at disproportionate risk of violence, including laws criminalizing HIV, which discourage testing and treatment while perpetuating damaging stigma by sending the message that people living with HIV are dangerous, as well as laws criminalizing sex work and drug use.

PWN-USA called for the first National Day of Action to End Violence Against WLHIV last year in the wake of the brutal murders of Cicely Bolden and Elisha Henson, both of Texas, following disclosure of their HIV status. Nationally, 55% of WLHIV have faced intimate partner violence–and women with a history of trauma are more vulnerable to acquiring HIV. Click here for more facts about violence against WLHIV, or read this excellent article on

PWN-USA thanks the following organizations for partnering with us and/or endorsing our second National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV on October 23, 2015:

  • 30 for 30 Campaign
  • A Sister’s Gift Women’s Center, Dallas
  • ACT UP London
  • African Services Committee
  • AIDS Alabama
  • AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • AIDS Project Los Angeles
  • AIDS United
  • Albanian Association OF PLWHA
  • APLA Health & Wellness
  • AS – Center For The Empowerment Youth Of People Who Are Living With HIV And AIDS
  • Aspirations
  • BABES-Network YWCA
  • Being Alive!
  • Bill’s Kitchen, Inc.
  • Caracole
  • Cascade AIDS Project
  • Center for Health and Gender Equity
  • Chicago Women’s AIDS Project
  • Christie’s Place
  • Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR)
  • Counter Narrative Project
  • CoyoteRI
  • emPOWERed Legacies
  • Federal AIDS Policy Partnership Structural Interventions Workgroup (FAPP SIWG)
  • Fierce Caucus and Black Womens Caucus of Union Theological Seminary
  • FORCE Baltimore
  • Forward Together Oakland
  • G III Associates
  • Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)
  • Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches
  • Global Network of People Living with HIV, North America
  • GMFA The Gay Men’s Health Charity (London)
  • HAART Inc., Baton Rouge
  • Healthy & Free Tennessee
  • Hektoen Institute of Medicine
  • HIV Disclosure Project
  • HIV Prevention Justice Alliance
  • HIVE
  • Housing Works Brooklyn
  • Houston AIDS Research Team Cross-Network HIV CAB
  • Howard Brown Health Center
  • In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
  • International HIV Partnerships
  • International Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Justice for All Coalition
  • Lambda Legal L.A.
  • Latino Commission on AIDS
  • Lee’s Rig Hub
  • National Female Condom Coalition
  • National HIV/AIDS Disability Project
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence
  • National Press Club,Nepal
  • National Working Positive Coalition
  • Older Women Embracing Life, Inc.
  • Our Story Inc.
  • Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative
  • Philadelphia Center
  • Philadelphia Department of Public Health Ambulatory Health Services PrEP Program
  • Positive Living Women Malaysia
  • PowerSource Tucson
  • PWN-USA Colorado
  • PWN-USA South Carolina
  • PWN-USA San Diego
  • PWN-USA Bay Area
  • PWN-USA Louisiana
  • PWN-USA Ohio
  • PWN-USA Michigan
  • PWN-USA Philadelphia
  • PWN-USA Georgia
  • ReShape
  • Ribbon Consulting Group
  • Sero Project
  • Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS)
  • SisterLove, Inc.
  • SisterReach, Memphis
  • SisterSong
  • Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care Kansas City
  • SKUC (Slovenia)
  • The Afiya Center
  • The Empowerment Program Denver
  • The Praxis Project
  • The Sophia Forum
  • The Well Project
  • The Women’s Collective Washington, DC
  • Transgender Law Center
  • Tunisian Association of Positive Prévention
  • Women & Life
  • WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases)
  • Women With A Vision, Inc.
  • Women’s HIV Program at UCSF

Click below to watch and share the Kaiser Family Foundation film, Empowered, featuring 5 PWN-USA members in conversation with Tonya Lee Lewis:

And watch PWN-USA Georgia member Danielle, AKA Ghetto Rose, perform a spoken word piece on her experience with domestic violence:

Join the 2nd Annual Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV, October 23, 2015


Contact: Naina Khanna, / 510-681-1169

August 31, 2015 – For women living with HIV, trauma and violence are often deadlier than the virus. Join Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice of women leaders with HIV in the US, in saying ENOUGH! to the epidemic of violence against women with HIV. You’re invited to sign on as a partner or endorser for the second annual National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV!

Official logo for the Day of Action.

On October 23, 2014, during Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, PWN-USA spearheaded the first-ever National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV (Day of Action) to respond to the high rates of interpersonal violence, abuse, and systemic brutality faced by women living with HIV – including several high-profile brutal murders of women because of their HIV-positive status. We joined with well over a dozen endorsing organizations to raise our voices in support of women with HIV of all gender identities and sexual expressions who face violence, and to demand solutions.

From local ruckus-raisings to educational events and a webinar featuring federal partners, 2014’s Day of Action was a tremendous success.  Since last year’s Day of Action, PWN-USA and the UCSF Women’s HIV Program jointly released a model of trauma-informed primary care useful for providers serving women living with HIV.

This October 23, the Day of Action’s impact and influence will be even broader – and you can help! Sign on early as a partner organization, bring the Day of Action to your community by organizing a virtual or in-person event, and improve culture, programs, and policy for women living with HIV.

“Last year’s events really helped to highlight policy and programmatic opportunities to address violence against women with HIV, as well as the cumulative effects of lifetime trauma,” says PWN-USA’s Executive Director, Naina Khanna. “From the White House to local Ryan White clinics and community-based organizations, we are seeing an emerging commitment to address this issue.”

Organizations that sign on as partners in the Day of Action commit to taking at least one of a number of bold actions to address violence against women with HIV on that day. As a partner, your organization name will be listed on our website, and your event or statement on the intersections of violence and HIV will be shared widely through PWN-USA’s channels. Read more about partnership and endorsement of the Day of Action

Three in every 4 women living with HIV in the US reports a history of gender-based violence, compared to 1 in 4 women in the general population. This is part of a larger context in which violence against women, especially women of color, has been normalized and accepted. The Day of Action, conceived entirely for and by women with HIV, was created to raise awareness about the effects and prevalence of violence against women living with HIV, break through the culture that keeps this issue in silence, and push for structural change, including policy changes to eliminate this disparity.

“Laws that criminalize people living with HIV and practices that perpetuate discrimination, including violations of our sexual and reproductive rights and stigmatizing portrayals of HIV in media, are part of the culture of violence against women living with HIV,” says Khanna.

On October 23, women living with HIV, as well as those who love and support them, are invited to take part in Day of Action events both online and in person, sponsored by our partner organizations as well as our nine regional chapters and independent members across the US. Stay tuned to between now and October to find out more about ways to get involved in your community as well as on social media.

“Everyone is invited to share thoughts, actions, or ideas using the hashtags #pwnspeaks and #EndVAWHIV on social media both during the event and leading up to it,” says Olivia Ford, PWN-USA’s Communications Director.

Sign on as a partner or endorser of the Day of Action TODAY! We can’t wait to work with you to end the culture of violence against women living with HIV.

When Ignorance Kills, Nobody Wins: Advocates Reflect on an HIV-Related Murder Case

By Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and Venita Ray

Elisha Maxine Henson was a Texas mother with a big love for family, especially her two sons. A stay-at-home mom with a bright smile, Elisha enjoyed riding motorcycles and was a member of a local church. Elisha was well liked and had many friends. Previously employed in the fast food industry, Elisha was living with HIV and was very open about her HIV status. Unfortunately, as a result of her openness, she experienced stigma in the small town where she lived.
Earlier this week, 23-year-old Justin Welch pled guilty to the first-degree murder of 30-year-old Elisha, who was strangled to death on April 26, 2014. Welch was sentenced to 50 years in prison. In a May 2014 police interview, Welch admitted to the murder and expressed anger and fear that he had been exposed to HIV through sexual contact with Elisha.

The overall risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV is extremely low and the risk of HIV transmission for a male receiving oral sex from a woman living with HIV is virtually zero. However, despite the lack of risk, inaccurate information and stigma surrounding HIV are pervasive, often resulting in negative consequences, as in this case and sadly in others.

Immediately after news of Henson’s murder became public, there was a national outcry from advocates around the country, including Positive Women’s Network – USA, a national membership body of women living with HIV. In addition to issuing a statement of solidarity with the family and condemning HIV-associated stigma and violence, Texas HIV advocates engaged in a variety of advocacy efforts to support the grieving family, to encourage responsible, non-stigmatizing media coverage, and to demand justice from the legal system. In the months that have followed, advocates have followed the case with interest and have continued to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of both HIV stigma and violence perpetuated against women living with HIV, declaring a National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV to honor Elisha, Cicely Bolden, and others.  Sadly, three out of four women living with HIV experience violence; this rate, which is far greater than the rate of violence for HIV-negative women, is unacceptable.

The price of stigma and violence is too great to bear. At only 30 years of age, Elisha is dead, leaving her two young sons, mother, siblings, and friends to mourn her absence. Welch will serve a minimum of 25 years of his 50-year prison sentence. Rosalind Smith, who has been charged as an accomplice, has yet to go to trial for her role; it has been alleged that Smith helped dispose of Henson’s body.  This is an example of senseless violence and unnecessary loss for an act that had virtually zero risk of HIV transmission.

Several months after the tragic day that Elisha was killed, many lives have been negatively impacted and will continue to be affected for years to come. The consequences of HIV stigma are deadly, and only through eradicating stigma and fostering understanding of transmission risks, compassion, and acceptance of people living with HIV will we avoid further tragedies, death, and loss.

We can’t bring Elisha, Cicely, or any of the victims of HIV-related deaths back, but we can work to prevent this from happening again.  We must acknowledge the insidious ways that HIV stigma contributes to the devaluing of the lives of women with HIV – and the potential deadly consequences of stigma coupled with misinformation about HIV transmission. We challenge everyone, regardless of HIV status, to get accurate, up-to-date information about HIV, and to share that information with others. We also challenge everyone to take an active role in eliminating HIV stigma by talking back to stigma in our daily lives, including our places of work, family, friends, doctors, and even in the media. We all have a role to play in eliminating violence against people living with HIV.

Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV: Save the Date, Join the Call

On October 23, 2014, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, PWN-USA is spearheading a National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV.

Please join us for the first Day of Action planning call on

Thursday, September 4, 3 – 4:30pm PT / 4 – 5:30pm MT / 5 – 6:30pm CT / 6 – 7:30pm ET

to discuss this Day of Action as an opportunity to bring the epidemic of violence against women living with HIV onto the field of national action for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Dial-in Number: 1-857-232-0300
Participant Access Code: 5821230#

The day grew in part from the fierce organizing by women in Texas in response to the brutal HIV-related murder of Elisha Henson, and of Cicely Bolden two years prior, in their home state — though violence against women living with HIV, as we know, is absolutely a national issue, with over half of women living with HIV having experienced intimate partner violence, and 58% of transgender women reported violence at home. This brutality cannot continue.

Please bring your thoughts and ideas for how folks can engage in their local and regional areas as well as virtually via social media.

Thanks so much, and please reach out to Olivia at with any questions.

Hope to hear you on the call!


Texas Advocates Respond to a Young Woman’s HIV-Related Murder

By Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, Venita Ray and Dena Hughes

elisha henson from online obit
Elisha Henson.

Readers may already be aware of the tragic May murder of Elisha Henson, a 30-year-old Texas mother of two who was brutally strangled and dumped into a lake a few months ago after a male with whom she’d had a previous intimate encounter learned of her HIV status.  It received some media coverage, but there are many who have not heard about it yet. Read one account describing the incident

Though the consensual physical act that Elisha and the alleged murderer engaged in posed virtually zero risk of HIV transmission, fear and ignorance fueled a violent, unnecessary act. And now two young boys are without their mother.

Elisha’s murder, like that of another young mother, Cicely Bolden of Dallas two years ago (who was murdered by a boyfriend after she disclosed her HIV status to him), and countless others before that, highlight the fact that though we have come very far over the years in the field of HIV, we still have a long, long way to go.

Though we now know, as evidenced by several randomized HIV clinical trials and other data, that with adequate treatment the risk of HIV transmission is quite low, very often people’s perceptions do not match up to science or to reality.

Quite literally, HIV stigma kills — though not always in this manner; sometimes in the role it plays in people’s decisions to drop out of care due to hurt, denial, and anger; sometimes in harmful actions people might engage in as coping mechanisms; sometimes in other ways.

Nationally, advocates are taking action, including Positive Women’s Network-USA.  Several of us Houston advocates have also teamed up to address this situation, which happened nearly in our own backyard (just a few hours away in Angelina County, near Lufkin, TX).  We encourage other Houstonians to support us, but ANYONE  can get involved, no matter where you live.  Several of the efforts we have identified thus far are easy, free, and will take very little of your time.

Four of these are listed below. The first three are letters and the fourth is online.  We have drafted a series of letters that you can sign and send.  There are letters for groups (with permission, you can send on behalf of another group (church, synagogue, nonprofit, etc.) with whom you might be affiliated. There are also individual letters.

1) The first is a letter to be sent to Elisha’s family via the funeral home in Lufkin, Texas that handled her funeral. It expresses condolences for their loss.

Individual Letter to Family of Elisha Maxine Frint Henson (MS Word download)

Group Letter to Family of Elisha Maxine Frint Henson (MS Word download)

2) Another is a letter to the District Attorney of Angelina County urging for justice to be served.

Henson DA Letter Single (MS Word download)

Henson DA Letter Multiple (MS Word download)

3) The third is a template to send letters to reporters/media outlets that have covered the story in a positive manner. (Contact us at and we can provide you with contact info if needed for several of these).  It is important to commend and support journalists that report about HIV fairly and respectful without perpetuating sensationalism and HIV stigma.

Individual Letter to Reporters (MS Word download)

Group Letter to Reporters (MS Word download)

4) Finally, you can send the family  condolences through Elisha’s online obituary. At the bottom of the obituary, there is an option to “sign the guestbook.” Signing the guestbook is free, and the responses are compiled and given to Elisha’s grieving family at periodic intervals. No registration is required, as one can use a pseudonym if they wish.

To date, there have been very few signatures in the guestbook. It would probably be great consolation to them if several people would consider signing the guestbook and leaving a few kind words of support for her family.  From media accounts, the family was seemingly having a lot of difficulty coming to grips with her diagnosis and now have to also deal with her untimely death.

Most of the comments already posted are very short (a sentence or so); one can leave a comment in a minute or two.  My ONLY caveat, and I ask in advance that you pardon my frankness, is that you exercise decorum when you comment.

Simply put: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  The family has already been dragged through the mud as stories of Elisha’s struggles with substance use and her HIV diagnosis were made public. I DO NOT wish for anyone to write ANYTHING in the guestbook that would hurt them further.

No condemnation, no finger pointing, no judgment — her elementary aged little boys and grieving family and friends don’t need that stress.  Everyone has a past.  Please do not write anything that will cause more pain. Simple condolences go a long way.

(On the obituary webpage, there is also an option at the top of the page to send a card and/or to send flowers.  I have not researched any costs that may be associated with those additional options; you are welcome to check it out if you like.)

Thanks for your patience with this matter, and your anticipated cooperation as well.  Please feel free to contact us at with any questions.


Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, Venita Ray, Dena Hughes

This piece is adapted from a version originally posted on Advocacy Without Borders’ blog.

Facts, Not Fear: In Ohio and Everywhere, HIV Is Not a Crime

By Naimah Oneal, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Ohio

Naimah Oneal  PWN-Ohio JPG
Naimah Oneal.

My name is Naimah Oneal; I am a mother, grandmother, auntie and lastly I am a woman living with HIV.  I must say that I am truly living with HIV by living my life.  I went back to school after my husband died and became a licensed social worker with my Master’s degree in Social Work.  I feel that I am a strong woman who understands that discussing one’s HIV status is important, but I have a problem with  this nation’s and particularly Ohio’s laws has they relate to HIV criminalization.

People are being imprisoned for decades, and in many cases have to register as sex offenders, as a consequence of exaggerated fears about HIV. Most of these cases involve consensual sex or conduct such as spitting and biting that has only a remote, if any, possibility of HIV exposure. A man with HIV in Texas is serving 35 years for spitting at a police officer; a woman with HIV in Georgia received an eight-year sentence for failing to disclose her HIV status, despite the trial testimony of two witnesses that her sexual partner was aware of her HIV-positive status; a man with HIV in Michigan was charged under the state’s anti-terrorism statute with possession of a “biological weapon” after he allegedly bit his neighbor;  and most recently, in Ohio, a women is being charged with felonious assault for having sex with a partner.

My concerns are as follows:

First: In the US and the world, women have a hard time negotiating their sex lives.  Whether you are single, married or a sex worker, women are being abused and are often the receivers of violence at the hands of their partner.   When a woman is also living with HIV, it just adds a layer of potential for women to further be abused. Recently, a woman in Texas was murdered for being HIV positive. As a side note: no one should ever be killed for being HIV positive.

The virus has been around for the past 30-plus years; no longer are people dying at anywhere near the rates they once were. Further, large studies have shown that if a person living with HIV is on treatment, their chance of transmitting HIV is practically zero.

Logo from HIV Is Not a Crime: The Grinnell Gathering — the first-ever National Conference on HIV Criminalization.

Second:  HIV is not a crime. The current laws are not about transmission, but about demonizing people for having the virus and making people who don’t know their status victims. If you’ve never been tested then how can you know you’re not living with HIV?  People living with HIV, including myself, live in fear of a system that at any minute could charge us with a crime, for simply having HIV.

I believe that there are also people  who are having unprotected sex — putting themselves and others at risk for STIs, including HIV — but will never get tested  because of most states having HIV related laws  dating back to the 1980s, not base in today’s vast  knowledge.   As long as they have never been tested and don’t know their HIV status, then they can’t be charged with a crime. When the world lives in fear of a virus that can only be seen with a microscope, only the virus is wins: HIV IS NOT A CRIME.

Third:  The media needs to take responsibility for offering correct information to assist in ultimately reducing the community viral load (a measure based on the level of HIV in a population as opposed to just one person’s body). I feel that everyone has a role when it comes to ending HIV in my lifetime. The media is in a position to help create an environment and tools for people to be able to disclose their HIV status without fear. As in the recent news report out of Columbus, the stories presented are often so one-sided, putting the weight of sexual responsibility on the person that knows their status when it is two people that are having sex.  People should be discussing and asking about their sex partners’ sexual history with language that asks direct questions to obtain direct answers. Asking someone if they are “clean” is not a direct question.  If I have just had a shower then I am clean. “Clean from what?” would be my question. Teaching people correct information should be one of the media’s goals, and can be an important part of media outlets helping to reduce the community viral load.

Last: I feel that most states that have HIV criminalization laws should change the language to be rooted in the current science, not the fears of the past.  All people have a right to not live in fear of a community that is misguided, misinformed, and hell-bent on finding someone to blame for this virus.   People like Elisha Henson, an HIV-positive woman from Texas, should not ever have been murdered. HIV IS NOT A CRIME.

Naimah Oneal is a Regional Co-Chair of PWN-USA-Ohio.

We Grieve for Elisha and Fight to End Violence Against Women With HIV

Positive Women’s Network – USA Mourns and Condemns the HIV-Related Murder of a Texas Woman

Contact:  Olivia Ford, PWN-USA – Brooklyn, NY – – 347.553.5174

                  Venita Ray – Houston, TX – – 713.299.6123

                  Marsha Jones, The Afiya Center – Dallas, TX – – 214.753.3777

June 18, 2014 – Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national membership body of women living with HIV, is shocked and horrified to learn of media reports that a young woman in Texas was brutally murdered, allegedly as a result of her HIV status.

According to media coverage, Justin Welch strangled 30-year-old Elisha Henson “when he learned she had HIV after she gave him oral sex.”

“This news is sickening, devastating, and heartbreaking to women living with HIV,” says PWN-USA Executive Director Naina Khanna. “Not only does it reveal the lack of value placed on the lives of women with HIV; it also shows that ignorance and misinformation about how HIV is and is not transmitted are quite literally deadly. The risk of a man acquiring HIV by receiving oral sex from a woman is so vanishingly low as to be virtually impossible.”

This is the second brutal murder of a woman due to HIV status within two years in Texas that has made mainstream media headlines. In September 2012, following the heinous murder of Dallas resident Cicely Bolden, women leaders living with HIV and our allies mourned Bolden’s death and condemned media coverage that cast her consensual sex partner, who was her murderer, as a victim.

“This is a travesty,” says Venita Ray, an advocate and woman living with HIV in Houston, Texas. “After Cicely’s murder, women in Texas were already afraid to disclose their HIV status. Now this? Stigma is literally killing women, more than 30 years into this epidemic.”

Although these two cases have received a high level of media attention, we know that violence in the lives of women with HIV is all too common. A survey conducted by PWN-USA last year found that 72% of respondents were survivors of intimate partner violence. Large studies have shown that women living with HIV suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at rates five times higher than the general population of U.S. women, and experience various types of lifetime abuse at two to six times the national rate.

Our hearts and our prayers go out to Elisha Henson’s loved ones. We stand with Elisha and all women living with HIV who face stigma, discrimination, and violence in its many forms. But equally important, we fight for solutions. If Justin Welch had known it was impossible to acquire HIV by receiving oral sex, would he have killed? Comprehensive, accurate sex education is desperately needed, reduces risk of unwanted pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections — and as we see in this instance, can literally save lives.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is deadly. We must do better.

On behalf of women living with HIV who face violence and even death due to misinformation and ignorance, PWN-USA recommends the following calls to action:
– Support the repeal of laws that criminalize HIV status: These laws are frequently based on outdated understandings and unfounded fears of HIV transmission risks. They do not prevent HIV transmission or promote public health, but instead foster environments of hostility and brutality toward people living with HIV.
– Pressure local health systems and law enforcement to implement recent White House recommendations to address violence and trauma in the lives of women living with HIV.
– Based on these same federal recommendations, ensure that violence and murder based on HIV status are prosecuted as hate crimes.
– Encourage responsible reporting by the media of Elisha Henson’s tragic murder and other cases involving people living with HIV: Coverage should be based on up-to-date knowledge of HIV transmission, must not portray people with HIV as predatory or irresponsible, and must uphold the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV.

We grieve for Elisha, and we will fight until violence in the lives of all women with HIV comes to an end.

Read a statement in response to Elisha Henson’s murder by the International Community of Women living with HIV (ICW) and the North America (ICWNA) chapter


Violence is the Fatal Flaw in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Getting to Zero for Women: Violence is the Fatal Flaw in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

CONTACT: Sonia Rastogi,, (408) 306-6805

November 28, 2012, Oakland, CA – Data released in 2012 shows a shocking correlation between violence, trauma, and poor health outcomes of women living with HIV in the U.S. HIV-positive women face disproportionate rates of violence and abuse, which too frequently leads to medication failure and death. Yet the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and its accompanying implementation plan failed to articulate goals and objectives to address this fatal health disparity for women.

This World AIDS Day, Positive Women’s Network-United States of America, a national membership body of women living with HIV, calls on the implementers of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to get to zero HIV-related deaths for women by committing to ending violence and discrimination.

Two months ago, Cicely Bolden was brutally murdered in Dallas, TX, allegedly for disclosing her HIV status to a partner. Earlier this year Brandy Martell was shot to death in downtown Oakland, CA, targeted because of her gender identity.

Data from the Women’s Interagency HIV Study shows that over 80% of women living with HIV in care have experienced trauma in their lifetimes, and a shocking one-fifth have experienced trauma in the past 30 days.

“We see violence against HIV-positive women every day,” says Gina Brown, an HIV-positive woman living in New Orleans, LA. “Some women are literally beaten to death. Others are emotionally or physically abused and, over time, lose the will or ability to take care of themselves, to keep medical appointments, let alone adhere to life-saving medications or eat well.”

“Laws that criminalize people living with HIV may play a role in perpetuating violence against women,” says Vanessa Johnson, JD, founding member of PWN-USA. “These laws, combined with the extreme economic injustice faced by women of color in this country, create an environment where HIV-positive women are not safe even in our own homes. Unfortunately, a woman’s HIV status can thus be used as a tool to manipulate, coerce, or control her.”

Research reveals that HIV-positive women with experiences of violence and trauma show disproportionately high rates of treatment failure, poor health outcomes, and high death rates than women living without HIV.

For instance, women living with HIV experience between two and six times higher rates of various types of child and adult sexual and physical abuse than the general population of women. Recent trauma is associated with over four times the likelihood of failing HIV treatment and almost four times the likelihood of being unable to negotiate or engage in safer sex. Ultimately, violence and trauma lead to higher death rates.

Positive Women’s Network-United States of America, a a national membership body of women living with HIV, demands bold action to end the various forms of violence faced by all women, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, institutional, and economic violence, and the trauma that violence leaves in its wake.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy did not address the devastating impact of violence against women on the health outcomes of women living with HIV. But the Federal Interagency Working Group on HIV, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities, created by President Obama in a March 2012 memorandum, provides an historic opportunity to rectify this oversight, and President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) also called for action towards this end in May 2012.

The leadership of women living with HIV must be prioritized and centered in every aspect of the work ahead of us. As women living with HIV, the following are our recommendations:

Amend the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: The Office of National AIDS and Infectious Diseases Policy must amend the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to include objectives that integrate and prioritize trauma recovery, violence prevention, and sexual and reproductive health services with HIV care for women.

Service Integration: Trauma recovery services are a gap in current HIV care for women. Trauma, its impact on health outcomes, and existing interventions must be better researched and understood to meaningfully “get to zero” for women.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) must invest in scientific and community-engaged health disparities research that identifies the biological, psychological, and social causal pathways between violence, trauma, and poor health outcomes.

Federal agencies, starting with Health and Human Services (HHS), must fund demonstration projects to identify, inventory, and evaluate best practices for trauma-informed care in clinical settings serving HIV-positive women and homegrown interventions that address violence against women and trauma.

National Anti-HIV Stigma Initiative: The Office of National AIDS and Infectious Diseases Policy must commit to a robust national anti-HIV stigma initiative. Organized national networks of people living with HIV should be involved in designing such an initiative.

Involving local, state, and global commissions in Violence Against Women

Continued Reflections on Women, HIV, and Violence: Involving Local, State, and Global Commissions

by Loren Jones


By Loren Jones

The murder of Cicely Bolden on September 6th, 2012, both heightened and inflamed our sense of sadness and rage. It also reminded us of the often daily losing battle of violence that many in this country are silently entrenched in. This silence leaves them less able to believe that the end of the HIV epidemic includes them.

About 50% of women who experience intimate partner violence live in households with children under the age of twelve. It happens in same –sex relationships at the same rate as opposite sex relationships. Most homicides and suicides occur when a partner tries to leave. Intimate partner violence includes physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and psychological violations. Thus, it is of utmost importance for all service providers, decision makers, social service agencies, and community members to be involved in the fight against violence against women.

As advocates we will keep advocating for more shelter, safe houses, better education and economic pathways to self-determination for all people. Recognizing and ending violence against women is also a major factor in bringing an end to the HIV epidemic for us all. With brighter outcomes and futures for all.

Over the years, commissions charged with addressing violence against women have been set up at various levels of government, including the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 1946. The UN Commission evaluated the progress on gender equality and set global standards and policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide.

This year the UN proclamation will hopefully be expanded to include language to eliminate all discrimination and violence against women that hinders their access to HIV prevention and treatment as well as reproductive choices by their intimate partners.

As we all know the road to political, structural, and institutional change is an exercise in persistence and patience. So the question becomes: What can we as individuals – as advocates and allies—do in our daily lives to push this effort forward?

I would like to suggest that we create relationships and collaborations with our local Human Rights Commissions and Commissions on the Status of Women. We must build these connections to tackle community-wide challenges, especially violence against women. We must go to their events and their meetings. Then we must invite those members to come to our meetings and our forums. This will foster dialogue between us and hopefully identify similarities in each of our goals.

I would like to suggest that we reach into our tested and tried “each one teach one” practices and define who and what we are up against. That we plan and organize to make sure that concrete resources and services are available for women when they need it the most. That we heal ourselves and each other. And that we move forward to improve the quality and length of our lives.

Loren Jones is a PWN-USA Founding Member. She is a local and national advocate for HIV, housing, and violence issues. Loren is based in Oakland, CA.