Tag Archives: sexual assault

Gender-based violence, sexual assault, and HIV

10 Mar

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Image from UNDP

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Image from UNDP

Today (March 10) is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is especially important to me, as a racial minority who works with HIV prevention and research. This day capitalizes on the growing need to focus attention toward newly emerging populations that are often overlooked in HIV discourse and rhetoric, particularly racial/ethnic minorities, and especially women of color.

Currently, the highest rise in HIV incidence rates are being observed among heterosexual Black women, comprising a three-way shift in race, gender, and sexual orientation from the group initially observed with having the highest HIV incidence rates in the early 1980’s: White homosexual men. Overall, Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected by HIV when compared to women of other races, highlighting a principal disparity in women’s health.

HIV is often viewed by the general public as its own isolated issue, directly linked to “promiscuity” or needle-use. In addition to contributing to unwarranted stigma surround HIV, these labels dismiss and discount other important factors that affect HIV transmission. Gender-based domestic violence and economic vulnerability (lack of financial means) are two factors that are often neglected in HIV discussions, yet they are integral players in the transmission of HIV, particularly among women of color.

Recently, in an effort to raise awareness around these issues, I published a composition of tweets linking gender-based domestic violence and economic vulnerability to rape/sexual assault and the predisposition to HIV.

Violence limits a woman’s ability to demand condom use & establishes and unfair power dynamic

On the flip side, even if a woman is not physically coerced into unprotected sex, she may forgo condom use with her partner or neglect to mention it out of fear that her partner will become violent with her.

Economic vulnerability also predisposes women, especially women of color, to HIV transmission. Financial dependence on a partner creates an imbalance in power dynamics that limits a woman’s ability to make decisions regarding condom use. A woman who is financially-dependent on her partner may feel pressured to meet the needs of her partner or “repay” her partner with sex, oftentimes unprotected, if it suits her partner’s needs.

 
There are many factors that predispose someone to HIV. Gender, violence, and one’s financial situation are three key players in this equation that we should not discount. Today, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I hope to raise awareness of these issues among the general public. As a healthcare worker and aspiring physician, I recognize that the application of medicine is not limited to diagnosis and treatment. I believe that it is important to have an understanding of the socio-economic factors that predispose populations to poor health. These factors, the “social determinants of health“, should be acknowledged and addressed first, as ultimately, prevention of the onset of disease is the most effective way to eradicate it.

–Rachel Safeek

Email me at rachel.safeek@duke.edu
Tweet at me: @RachSafeek