, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 494-509

Does HIV status make a difference in the experience of lifetime abuse? descriptions of lifetime abuse and its context among low-income urban women

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Women living in poor urban communities are doubly disadvantaged with regard to increased risk for two major public health crises in the United States today—HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and violence. This study moves beyond the comparison of rates of lifetime abuse among women to incorporate contextual information of the abusive situation and experiences of HIV-positive women and a sample of sociodemographically similar HIV-negative women. A total of 611 women, 310 of whom were diagnosed as HIV positive, provided interviews integrating quantitative data and qualitative text on their lifetime experience of abuse. Quantitative results yielded few statistically significant differences between the lifetime experiences of violence between HIV-positive women and their HIV-negative counterparts. Of the women, 62% reported intimate partner violence, and 38% reported experiencing nonpartner abuse as an adult. A majority of the abused women reported that their alcohol or drug use or their partner’s alcohol or drug use was associated with the abuse experienced. Significant differences were found between HIV-positive women and HIV-negative women in the pattern of abuse experience as a child, the frequency of abuse as an adult, and the involvement of women’s drinking before or during a violent episode. Qualitative excerpts from the interviews were found to differ thematically and were integrated with the quantitative data to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the women’s contextual situation in understanding interpersonal violence experienced by both HIV-positive and HIV-negative women.

Dr. Gielen is with Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy Management; and Dr. O’Campo is with Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, Department of Population and Family Health Sciences.