Gina didn’t see herself as a victim of intimate partner violence, “I just thought I was a chick that got beat up sometimes.” When she found out she was living with HIV it got worse, “He used my HIV diagnosis as a weapon.”
Gina is not alone. One in three women experiences intimate partner violence. For women with HIV, it is one in two.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Intimate partner violence is a major issue for many women in the U.S. Less often discussed is the concerning connection with HIV.
Women with an abusive partner are more likely to have forced or risky sex and may be less able to negotiate use of protection – putting them at increased risk for HIV. For some women with HIV, like Gina, an abuser may try to use their status against them. This can increase depression and lower self-esteem, which in turn can make it harder to keep up with medications or stay connected to care.
Gina is one of five women living with HIV who shared their stories with Greater Than AIDS for Empowered: Women, HIV & Intimate Partner Violence to bring attention to the intersection between HIV and intimate partner violence and break this cycle. Hosted by Tonya Lewis Lee – lawyer, author, producer and long-time advocate for women’s health issues – this powerful video series takes an up-close look from the perspective of those with personal experience and how they got help.
Gina found the strength to leave the abusive relationship when she realized that she wasn’t alone. “One day, he went to hit me with my baby in my arms. As women, we all feel like we have to be so strong. So we wipe the tears away. And then you get to a point where you break. And I broke. I said, ‘I can’t do this by myself. I need help.’”
Gina also got the help she needed to take care of her mental and emotional health. “I came from a community where you didn’t seek help because you’re not crazy. Well you know what, I have a therapist. Because I’m going to take care of me. It’s about me being healthy and getting what I need.”
As a woman living with HIV for over 20 years, Gina now uses her experiences to empower other women to live their best, healthiest lives. “You’re not a bad person because bad things happen to you… We have to truly start loving ourselves a whole lot more. And reach out to people. People are there.” Today, Gina is one of the leading voices on women and HIV.
“Other women have gone through it, other women are still going through it. Now you have a network of women you can talk to.”
Empowered: HIV & Intimate Partner Violence is a campaign from Greater Than AIDS that brings attention to the intersection of these issues and provides resources for those in need. By sharing their own experiences, the women hope to remove the silent shame that so many suffer and show there is a way forward.
Empowered: Women, HIV and Intimate Partner Violence is produced by Greater Than AIDS in partnership with The National Domestic Violence Hotline, loveisrespect, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Positive Women’s Network-USA and The Well Project. The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation provided additional support for community materials available free-of-charge to support outreach.