The following are information and resources related to the unique consideration of cases with intimate partner violence and the HIV positive status of the victim or abuser. There are many ways intimate partner violence contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and how an HIV status limits victims’ access to resources and can be used as a tactic of abuse. At the core of the problem are gender-based inequalities that contribute to the spread of illness.

Relationship Abuse and Risk of HIV Transmission

Victims of intimate partner violence may be a greater risk of contracting HIV.

  • Abusers may limit their partner’s access to safe sex practices (restrict them from using condoms, etc).
  • Abusers may rape or sexually assault as part of their pattern of control, making it unlikely that the abuser will use a condom. In fact, some abusers may intentionally infect their partners with HIV in an attempt to keep the partner from leaving.
  • Abusive partners who engage in sexual activity outside the relationship potentially expose victims to STI’s including HIV.
  • Abusive partners may force victims to engage in sexual activities with others.
  • Abusers may prevent partners from receiving medical care.
  • Abusive partners may cause or exacerbate a wide range of health-related problems. This negative effect on their partners’ health may compromise their immune system in ways that increase their risk of HIV.

Tactics of Abuse and HIV Status

Abusers whose partners are HIV positive may use their partner’s status as a tactic of abuse:

  • Threats to reveal HIV positive status to children, family, friends, employer.
  • Threatening to use victim’s HIV positive status as grounds for parental custody.
  • Reinforcing a victim’s guilt about the HIV positive status of children.
  • Sexually humiliating or degrading the victim for having HIV.
  • Isolating the victim on the basis that s/he poses a threat of infection to others.
  • Threatening or refusing to assist the victim when s/he is sick.

Abusers who are HIV positive may use their own status as a tactic of abuse:

  • Abusers may use victim’s HIV positive status as an excuse for perpetrating violence against them.
  • Abusers who are HIV positive may fake illness in order to convince victims not to leave or to convince them to come back if they have left.
  • Abusers who are HIV positive and who require care giving may be successful at manipulating victims into providing care.

Please visit our pages for definitions on Sexual Abuse and Physical Abuse for more information. Remember that these tactics are part of a larger pattern of abuse: Types of Abuse.

Disclosure of HIV Status

Disclosure of HIV status can be difficult and dangerous if you feel your partner can become violent. It may be helpful to get professional counseling if it is difficult to decide when and how to tell a partner.
The following actions can reduce the risk of violence:

  • Disclose in a semi-public place like a restaurant or crowded park with many people around. Find a place that is private enough to have a conversation, but public enough to get help if needed.
  • Consider disclosing with a third person present, like a friend or a health care provider.

Obstacles to Health and Safety

The following potential obstacles may exist for victims who are HIV positive and experiencing abuse from an intimate partner:

  • The abuser often controls access to financial resources, medical care, and support systems. As the disease progresses, the victim becomes less able to care for her/himself, more dependent on the abuser, and increasingly trapped in the relationship.
  • Leaving may raise an array of concerns about care giving, failing health, and the stigma of having HIV/AIDS.
  • For victims with an AIDS diagnosis, they may be on disability or another fixed income and therefore financially dependent on their partners for money to survive and pay for costly drugs and treatment.
  • A victim with children may be particularly reluctant to leave out of concern for the care of children should s/he become incapacitated by the disease.
  • Lesbian and gay victims may have even less of a support network of family and friends if they’ve been ostracized because of their sexual orientation. For more information please visit Same Gender and LGBT Relationships
  • Victims who are HIV positive may be discriminated against in their attempts to get help; i.e., they may not be able to access emergency shelter, housing, etc.
  • Victims who are HIV positive may fear that HIV positive status is more likely to be disclosed if they reach out for safety-related assistance.
  • Victims who are HIV positive may fear that if they seek services related to their HIV positive status, partner notification practices will put them at risk of further violence.

Additional Resources

Information by the World Health Organization on HIV/AIDs status: Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS

Power Wheel: HIV/AIDS and Violence

Information adapted from:

What Do Professionals Need to Know: Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS. New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence(2013)

Violence Against Women and HIV. The Well Project(2013)

Domestic Violence, HIV/AIDS, and Other STIs. The Advocates for Human Rights: Stop Violence Against Women (2006)