Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and HIV

Content Note: This article describes abuse. If you or a loved one are struggling, consider reading our mental health resources page.

Intimate partner violence, referred to as IPV, has been connected to HIV diagnoses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says IPV includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats of physical or sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive tactics) by a current or former intimate partner.1

The intersection of risk between IPV and HIV

It is unclear if relationships with IPV cause women to become positive at a higher frequency or if being HIV-positive causes women to find themselves in relationships with IPV more frequently. Some studies suggest it is both.1

The women in relationships with IPV may face several increased risk factors. These women may find themselves:1,2

  • Forced to have sex without a condom or other preventative measures, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • Forced to have sex with a positive partner without such previously mentioned protection
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as intravenous (IV or injection) drug usage, or
  • Engaging in other risky sexual behaviors.

Additionally, women who are HIV positive may experience IPV after disclosing their status to their partner.

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Taking a closer look

Women with HIV experience IPV more than the general population. Studies have shown that 55 percent of HIV-positive women experience IPV, which was double the national rate, and the rates of childhood sexual abuse (39 percent) and childhood physical abuse (42 percent) were more than double the national rate.1

Compared to women who have not been abused women living with HIV who have been recently abused are more than 4 times as likely to experience antiretroviral therapy failure. That is a significant increase.2

One study found that, of people who provided HIV services 24 percent reported at least one patient who disclosed their HIV status and then experienced physical abuse, and 45 percent of providers had patients who feared physical abuse upon disclosure.2

IPV and health

Women who experience IPV and other sexual violence are also more likely to have other health concerns. These health concerns include:1

  • Problems with mental health, including stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Problems with physical health, including frequent headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain
  • Altered red blood cell and decreased T-cell function

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My experience: IPV while living with HIV

When I originally received my HIV diagnosis, I felt like my life was over. Since I was not properly educated on HIV, I truly believed that nobody would want to date me. I ended up in a very abusive and controlling relationship. Unfortunately, I dealt with this treatment because I did not believe that I could find anything better due to my status.

One night we were our fight in the car got so bad that cops pulled us over. It was a horrible experience, but also a huge wake-up call for me. I told him I would rather be alone the rest of my life and left him that night. At that time, I really believed that I was unlovable because of my status.

Without a doubt, I know that if I had not been recently told I was positive, I would not have allowed somebody to treat me the way that he did. But I was young and very uneducated about what living with HIV meant. I have now become educated and have grown from the person I was when I initially received my diagnosis. Sadly, I believe that situations like this are partly to blame for the rate of IPV in the relationships of women living with HIV.

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