, Volume 77, Issue 3, pp 480-491

Women living with HIV: Disclosure, violence, and social support

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Abstract

This paper describes the frequency of women's disclosure of their HIV status, examines the extent to which they experience adverse social and physical consequences when others learn they are infected, and analyzes correlates of these negative outcomes. There were 257 HIV-positive women between the ages of 18 and 44, recruited from HIV/AIDS primary care clinics and from community sites, who completed a face-to-face interview. Women in the sample were 33 years old on average; 92% were African-American; 54% had less than 12 yeas of education; 56% had used intravenous drugs; and 30% knew they were HIV positive for 5 or more years. There were 97% who disclosed their HIV status; 64% told more than 5 people. Negative consequences associated with others knowing they were HIV-positive were reported by 44%, most commonly the loss of friends (24%), being insulted or sworn at (23%), and being rejected by family (21%). There were 10 women (4%) who reported being physically or sexually assaulted as a result of their being HIV positive, and 16% reported having no one they could count on for money or a place to stay. Violence was widespread in this sample, with 62% having experienced physical or sexual violence, including sexual abuse or rape (27%), being beaten up (34%), and weapon-related violence (26%). Logistic regression analysis indicated that women with a history of physical and sexual violence were significantly more likely to experience negative social and physical consequences when their infection became known to others, adjusting for age and the number of people women had disclosed to, both of which were only marginally significant. Partner notification policies and support programs must be responsive to the potential negative consequences associated with others learning that a woman is HIV positive. The high rates of historical violence in the lives of women living with HIV underscore the need for routine screening and intervention for domestic violence in all settings that provide health care to HIV-positive women.