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About Abuse

Abuse Among People Living with HIV/AIDS

Updated: 
May 25, 2018

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.