Resources and Reproductive Justice for Young Women Living with HIV

By Grissel Granados

In my opinion, the greatest needs of young women living with HIV include, but are not limited to, adequate medical services that are responsive to our sexual and reproductive health needs.

As a young woman living with HIV, I had a terrible experience related to my sexual and reproductive health. Once, I was denied a birth control refill and was told that I would be okay without it since I should be using condoms with my partner anyway. I stormed out of that clinic and was out of care and medications for several months because I refused to go back to that place that insulted me.

grissel granados
Grissel Granados.

Young women must be able to access HIV care with providers that are able to treat women holistically, instead of just looking at viral loads and CD4 counts. The full sexual lives of young women must be acknowledge by providers. Doctors need to ask about young women’s sexual practices without making assumptions. Case managers and therapists must support young women in being able to explore their sexuality in a healthy way, since many young women live in fear of their own sexual selves. I have met young women born with HIV who have grown up in such fear of themselves as sexual beings that they cannot even fathom dating, much less having healthy children someday.

The other big need for young women is to have space. Granted, the numbers of young women living with HIV are small; however, space must still be created to build relationships with other young women living with HIV. It is not acceptable to have absolutely zero resources for young women when it comes to social-emotional support. Young women feel stigma as it is already by living with HIV; it is not OK to isolate them further by not providing spaces that are supportive of their unique needs and experiences.

Grissel Granados is the coordinator of the Los Angeles Integrated Center for Care and Supportive Services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She has spoken, presented, and advised on youth and the HIV response, as well as sexuality and sex positivity in youth work, locally and internationally. Granados was recently appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She was born with HIV in Mexico City.

PWN-USA Statement on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Updated:  Positive Women’s Network – United States of America Congratulates the PACHA for passing Criminalization Resolution

In observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) urges the  Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) to pass resolution condemning HIV criminalization laws and end the pipeline of unjust incarceration of Black men and women living with HIV in the United States

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February 7, 2013 — Washington, DC  Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and  Prevention (CDC) released a fact sheet entitled “HIV and AIDS among African Americans.” This fact sheet indicates that Black Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV and to suffer worse health outcomes once infected. According to the CDC, young Black American gay men “now account for more new HIV infections than any other (population) group.” Furthermore, Black American women, despite a slight decline in new HIV infections, continue to “be more affected by HIV than women of any other race or ethnicity.”

But the disproportionate impact of HIV on Black Americans (and on immigrant communities of African descent, for whom no accurate national data are available) cannot be decoupled from the social and structural injustices that put people of African descent at increased risk for poor health outcomes – including racism, economic injustice, and disproportionate interaction with and treatment by the criminal justice system.  Overlaying the disparate impact of HIV on Black communities with disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, and superimposing HIV criminalization laws on top of that is a spark waiting to ignite a new wave of incarceration of people of African descent.

Blacks Americans comprised 12.1% of the total population in the United States. In 2008, Black American men made up 40.2% of all prison inmates and Black American women comprised 32.6% of incarcerated women. The same social determinants such as poverty, education, housing and employment which dictate high levels of incarceration also dictate high levels of HIV infection. Criminalization has always been used as a means to control people who are poor, discriminated against and otherwise disenfranchised. And the policing of the bodies, sexuality and reproduction of people of color in this country is nothing new.  HIV criminalization laws are just another tool in the toolbox to control communities of color and poor people. 

Further– despite the fact that in many cases where sentences are being served no transmission of HIV actually occurred — the criminalization of HIV is now being used to justify the creation of new laws regarding the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. A series of public health gymnastics that will, no doubt, once again disproportionately impact black Americans.

PWN-USA vehemently rejects the notion that criminalization of HIV exposure, non-disclosure, or transmission serves the public health of the American people.  Data shows that HIV criminalization laws may have a chilling effect on people’s desire to get tested, access care when needed, and stay on treatment.  HIV criminalization laws complicate disclosure – sometimes creating an incentive “not to tell.”  And as women living with HIV, we know from experience that the threat of HIV criminalization is often used as a tool of abuse, coercion, and manipulation in relationships.  Thus, criminalization of HIV makes us unsafe, even in our own homes.

It is the responsibility of public health advocates and the government to safeguard our collective health and individual rights.  Today, in observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we urge the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) to take real leadership on this issue and to pass a resolution condemning HIV criminalization laws as based in outdated science and detrimental to public health goals, including the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, especially for Black Americans.  

In sisterhood and solidarity,

Positive Women’s Network-United States of America (PWN-USA)