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The Winding Road of Criminal Justice for Survivors Living with HIV: Recognizing the National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV

October 23, 2016

Sunday, October 23, 2016 is recognized as the National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV. Fifty-five percent of women living with HIV experience domestic violence; double the national rate. Women living with HIV experience a dilemma with respect to disclosing their health status: according to a study[1], 24 percent of HIV infected women experienced physical violence after disclosing their HIV status to their partner, while another 45 percent feared this reaction. On one hand, disclosing one’s HIV status may increase the chance of experiencing violence from their partner or family members. Due to state-specific HIV exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission laws, not disclosing one’s HIV status can increase one’s risk of arrest and prosecution. The criminalization of individuals living with HIV disproportionately impacts women, in particular women of color and transgender women. Unfortunately these additional barriers leaving an abusive partner particularly difficult for HIV infected women.

In addition to fear of violence, domestic violence and HIV greatly increases an individual’s chances of becoming homeless, which creates more stigma. The inability to find or keep stable housing is exacerbated by factors such as discrimination related to HIV, race, sexual orientation, and/or involvement with the criminal justice system. Resources for women living with HIV who experience domestic violence are already limited, and homelessness further victimizes survivors living with HIV. Women of color, transgender and gender non-conforming people are in an especially difficult spot as they may face additional barriers when seeking help for housing or with the criminal justice system due to widespread discrimination.

Victims living with HIV don’t stay in abusive relationships because they are okay with the abuse; they stay because multiple interpersonal, community, and institutional barriers, such as stigma and a lack of resources, eliminates other options. NNEDV stands with organizations like the Positive Women’s Network USA to advocate for the end of the unjust criminalization of and violence against people living with HIV.

Resources:

[1] Rothenberg K.H. et al, 1995 –Women living with HIV: Disclosure, violence, and social support

[2] Positive Women’s Network USA https://pwnusa.wordpress.com/doa/#_ftn8

[3] Breaking the Link Between Homelessness and HIV http://www.nationalaidshousing.org/PDF/FactsheetHomelessness.pdf

[4] Positively Safe http://nnedv.org/PositivelySafe