But most important, instead of putting Bolden's HIV status on trial, let's recognize that for women like her, domestic violence is a serious and all-too-common issue. A recent report found that 55 percent of all women living with HIV/AIDS have experienced domestic violence, which is more than twice the rate of the general population. And violence isn't just a quick reaction to learning someone's status; it can be long term and calculating.
Recent results from the Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), the largest ongoing study about women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, found that between 24 and 78 percent of women living with HIV/AIDS -- as well as women with increased risk of HIV, such as those living in poverty or in an area with high HIV rates -- report a history of domestic violence. In addition, 78 percent of the women in the study reported a lifetime experience of abuse, and 36 percent experienced abuse that had occurred in the past three months.
Violence and trauma can kill HIV-positive women, and not for obvious reasons. That same WIHS report found that HIV-positive women experiencing recent trauma were 4.3 times more likely to have their AIDS medications fail and 50 percent more likely not to be in medical care. Researchers cited a range of reasons, including depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, that became barriers to adhering to medications and seeking care, even if care was accessible and available.
Naina Khanna, policy director at the Oakland-based Positive Women's Network USA, emphasizes that domestic violence can also be in the form of emotional abuse specifically aimed at HIV-positive women, such as withholding their medication, not allowing them to attend doctor's appointments or support groups and even threatening to reveal their status to others who may not know.