by Justin B. Terry-Smith
Domestic violence is a serious threat to one’s health whether it is mental, physical, emotional or spiritual; throw HIV in the mix and it can be more and more disastrous. I’ve decided to write about same-sex intimate partner violence and HIV because these two subjects are very familiar to me, and I’ve been through both. I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and I consider myself a survivor of HIV. The reason why I say I’m a survivor of HIV is that I know plenty of my friends that, because of low self esteem and HIV stigma, have died at very young ages. I chose not to let that happen to me and instead found the strength to live. We must use that same strength in order to be a survivor of domestic abuse. I recently had a very close and dear friend of mine go through a relationship that was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive. He has finally cut his former abusive boyfriend out of his life and is now back in school, but it has been a long road for him to even get this far. My first piece of advice for victims of domestic abuse is to get away from your abuser. If, for whatever reason you cannot get away from your abuser, you can take steps to protect yourself.
HIV Guilt • I’ve seen it more than once. Boy meets boy, boy falls in love with boy, both boys become HIV-positive. In many cases like this, I see one who blames the other for acquiring HIV when neither knows for sure how it happened. And it shouldn’t matter if both consented to an open relationship. It’s best if we blame the virus itself rather than ourselves. And unfortunately I’ve seen this resentment lead to physical and verbal abuse.
Taking Away HIV Medication • Abusive partners may try to cut you off from your HV resources. This is their way of manipulating you into staying with them. They might hide your medication or keep it from you so they can control when and how you take your medication. This is hard to get around. For reasons that have nothing to do with abuse, I sometimes keep a surplus of medication for emergencies and I’ve been separated from my medication. A solution might be that you can order more medication; however, make sure that your doctor knows that you need the medication to come to a different address and location, if you reside with your partner.
Social Media • Abusers like to make you think that they are reading your mind. My friend who I mentioned above had his Facebook account hacked by his abuser. The abuser saw all of our messages and began to try to guilt my friend based on what he learned. I told my friend to find shelter and the abuser grabbed screen shots of all of our messages and posted it to my friend’s Facebook. He did that to try to show people how I and other friends were not good-hearted. But it only made him look more and more controlling. He could’ve taken it further and announced my friend’s sexual orientation or HIV status but he did not. I say this as a warning; change your passwords on all social media accounts and on all electronic devices. DO NOT GIVE ABUSERS ACCESS.
HIV & Stress & Trauma • Stress has been known to be directly related to one’s HIV health, or health in general. When a person is living with HIV, stress affects one’s T-cell count to the point where one’s immune system is weakened. Trauma, such as experienced by individuals in an abusive relationship, is also a danger. According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s article, “What hard times & stress do for your HIV health,” by Emily Land, MA, “Trauma significantly predicted risk of death from HIV or other causes. For everyone experience of trauma, risk of death increased by 17% and risk of HIV-related death increased by 22%. When three traumas were experienced, risk of death by any cause increased by 60% and HIV-related death by 83%.”
Money • The abuser might hold money over the victim. For example, the abuser might tell the victim that they will take care of their victim by paying for their HIV medication. My friend would occasionally ask for money from me and I had no issue giving it to him because it might help him pay for food (which is vital for taking HIV medication). His abuser sent me a Facebook message and said, “I can’t believe you are helping him pay for food when I provide for him.” Of course, this is a form of control. I said to myself, “Well if he keeps asking me for money, how is it that you can say you provide for him”. Then on social media the abuser paid for an $800 dog for his victim. So, I said something doesn’t add up here. The abuser was withholding money from the victim, which he also needs for food and HIV medication.
I’m going to leave you with some statistics about LGBTQ domestic violence. The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found for LGBTQ people: Forty-four percent of lesbians and sixty-one percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to thirty-five percent of heterosexual women. Twenty-six percent of gay men and thirty-seven percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to twenty-nine percent of heterosexual men. Forty-six percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to seventeen percent of heterosexual women and thirteen percent of lesbians. Twenty-two percent of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to nine percent of heterosexual women. Forty percent of gay men and forty-seven percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to twenty-one percent of heterosexual men. You are not alone!
If you are being abused, I encrouage you to seek counseling and leave the situation as soon as possible. You might need to stay at a shelter or halfway house; look for a place that is LGBTQ and HIV-friendly. There are certain centers that focus on the LGBTQ community that provide food (which is a need for most HIV medications), shelter, job training, and education resources, as well.
Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, DrPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].