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About Abuse

Abuse Among People Living with HIV/AIDS

Abuse Among People Living with HIV/AIDS

Updated: 
May 25, 2018

Information about abuse for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Basic info

In this section, you will find information about abuse for people living with HIV/AIDS, including information about both victims or abusers living with HIV/AIDS

What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) People living with HIV may or may not have AIDS, depending on how their health is being affected by the virus. AIDS is the most severe phase of the HIV infection. You can read more about this on HIV.gov.1

1HIV.gov, ”What Are HIV and AIDS?”

How common is domestic violence for people living with HIV/AIDS?

In general, one in three women experiences intimate partner violence (IPV), which is violence in a romantic relationship.1 However, one in every two women living with HIV/AIDS experiences IPV2 as this image from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows:

Domestic violence also increases the risk of exposure to HIV.3 While people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly women and LGBTQ individuals, are more likely to be victims of domestic violence,4 abusers living with HIV/AIDS may use their HIV status to control or hurt their partners as well.5

1 HIV.gov, ”What Are HIV and AIDS?”
2 AIDS United, “The Intersection of Women, Violence, Trauma and HIV”
3 Futures Without Violence, “The Facts on Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS”
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Intersection of Intimate Partner Violence and HIV in Women”
5 New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS”

Can domestic violence increase the risk of exposure to HIV?

There are documented links between intimate partner violence (IPV) and HIV/AIDS. For instance, women in relationships where IPV is present are four times more likely to get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in general, including HIV. When someone is in a sexually-abusive relationship, s/he is two to ten times more likely to get an STI. This could be because:

  • the abuser might be forcing the victim to have sex with an infected partner (him/herself or an outside partner);
  • the victim might not be able to engage in safer sex or safer sex negotiations with the abuser;
  • the abuser might be practicing risky sexual behaviors with other partners, which could put the victim at risk; and/or
  • the abuser could be luring or forcing the victim to participate in risky sexual behaviors.1

To learn more about the links between domestic violence and HIV, you can go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

1 This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS” page.

HIV/AIDS and domestic violence in an intimate relationship

I am living with HIV/AIDS. How could domestic violence affect my health or well-being?

HIV, AIDS, and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) can create specific challenges for people in abusive relationships. Domestic violence can make it difficult for people living with HIV to get medical care. Here are some ways domestic violence can affect the medical care and overall health of people living with HIV/AIDS:

  • Victims who have recently been abused are four times more likely to have antiretroviral therapy failure (HIV treatment failure) than people who have not recently been abused;
  • The abuser may be in charge of the victim’s bank account/access to money, health insurance, and other financial resources, and refuse to provide financial support for health care or medical expenses;
  • The victim may be on disability or another source of fixed income and depend on the abuser for expensive medications and other treatment. This leaves the victim financially vulnerable to the abuser, instead of being able to decide for herself/himself what treatment s/he needs;
  • If the abuser is in some way taking care of the victim, the victim may be concerned about who will take care of him/her if the victim leaves the abuser or the abuser is removed from the home;
  • The victim may worry about who will care for his/her children if s/he gets sick and may even postpone treatment because s/he doesn’t have help with child care or is afraid of leaving kids with the abuser; and
  • Victims of domestic violence who are living with HIV/AIDS may fear that partner notification laws will result in a current or former abuser being notified about their status.1 Therefore, a victim may go without medical treatment in case partner notification laws would require the doctor or other medical professional to tell the victim’s current or former partners that s/he has HIV. However, not all states require this type of notification. To learn about any partner notification laws that may exist in your state, please see The Center for HIV Law & Policy.

1 This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS” page.

I am living with HIV/AIDS. What ways could someone could use my HIV status to be abusive?

Abusers may use the unfair stigma around HIV/AIDS to isolate and control victims. Here are some ways an abuser might use a victim’s HIV-positive status to control or hurt his/her partner:

  • threatening to reveal a victim’s HIV+ status to family, friends, co-workers, landlords, etc., or in a custody case;
  • making a victim feel guilty about the HIV+ status of his/her children;
  • belittling a victim over his/her HIV+ status (e.g., telling the victim that no one will want him/her because of his/her HIV+ status);
  • using the victim’s HIV+ status as an excuse for violent behavior;
  • using a victim’s HIV+ status as an excuse to isolate him/her from others and to take control of the victim’s finances, making the victim more dependent on the abuser; and
  • withholding, hiding or throwing away medicine, cancelling medical appointments or denying the victim access to medical care.1
1This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS” page.

The abuser is living with HIV/AIDS. In what ways could s/he use his/her HIV status to be abusive?

Abusers may use their HIV/AIDS- status as a way to threaten, harass, and/or abuse their partners. Here are some ways that abusers may try to use their HIV-positive status as a way to control or hurt their partners:

  • manipulating a victim into believing that the abuser’s health will get worse if the victim leaves;
  • blaming the victim for any negative changes in the abuser’s health;
  • infecting or threatening to infect a victim to intimidate him/her into staying;
  • faking illness in order to get a victim to stay or to return if s/he has already left;
  • forcing the victim to do sexual acts against his/her will that put the victim at risk for contracting HIV or threatening to commit these acts; and
  • purposefully trying to infect the victim under the theory that if the victim is also infected, there is a better chance that s/he won’t leave the abuser.1

1 This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS” page.

More information and where to get help

I live with HIV/AIDS and I want to leave an abusive relationship. What can I do?

Being HIV-positive could affect someone’s decision to walk away from abuse.

Some of the issues that could be preventing victims living with HIV/AIDS from leaving an abusive relationship include:

  • fear of unwanted disclosure of their diagnosis if they try to leave;
  • discrimination against them when they attempt to find help at shelters or other emergency housing options after leaving abuse; and/or
  • limited financial resources if they are unable to work and therefore, it may be harder to get the money that is needed to flee or that would be needed to live separately from the abuser.1

LGBTQ victims of domestic violence who are living with HIV/AIDS may face additional obstacles to leaving an abusive relationships because of unfair shaming about their sexual orientation and HIV status.1 For more information about abuse in LGBTQ relationships, you can go to our LGBTQ Victims page.

However, it is important to know that there is help out there. If you are facing any of these situations, you can call a local organization where an advocate can help you figure out what you want to do next and what help there is available for you. To find an organization near you, go to our Advocates and Shelters page and select your state from the drop-down menu. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Another option for victims living with HIV/AIDS is to tell their doctor or nurse about the abuse and to ask for referrals or support that their local hospital or medical center may provide onsite. For example, a victim’s HIV clinic may have a partnership with the community’s domestic violence agencies and may even have an advocate onsite at the clinic. If a victim is afraid that the abuser would find out that s/he went to a domestic violence agency, this may be a better way to seek help. However, this may only be an option for those who:

  • are currently receiving medical care for HIV/AIDS;
  • trust their doctor/nurse; and
  • are able to attend appointments alone and/or meet with their doctor/nurse alone without the abuser present.

1 This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s “Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS” page.

Where can I find additional resources about HIV and domestic violence?

If you want to learn more about HIV/AIDS and how domestic violence can affect people living with HIV/AIDS, here are some additional websites that can be helpful to read through: