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Natl Day of Action to End Violence Against Women With HIV

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday October 23, 2014

October 23 is the first-ever national day of action to end violence against women with HIV and across the country, the Positive Women's Network has planned rallies, ruckus-raisings and social media actions.

"I have experienced domestic violence firsthand. I made the violence normal; I blamed myself for everything that happened, until I found someone who had the same experiences, who showed me where to get help," said PWN-USA-Philadelphia Co-Chair LaDonna Boyens. "I have walked in the shoes of women survivors of violence; when they look at me and see the advocacy I'm doing now, they might think, 'Maybe I can do helpful things for someone else, too.' "

Today, during Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, Positive Women's Network-USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice of women leaders with HIV in the U.S., joins with more than a dozen endorsing organizations to raise our voices in support of women with HIV of all gender identities and sexual expressions who face violence, and the trauma that violence leaves in its wake.

"I know a couple of women that have been violently beaten on dates with men once they disclosed their HIV status," said PWN- USA-Ohio Outreach Coordinator Olga Irwin. "One of these women was hospitalized from the beating; both women had undetectable viral loads, which studies show means they had virtually zero chance of transmitting the virus. Women who are with a partner that abuses them may feel stuck in the relationship for fear of having to disclose their status to possible new partners. HIV stigma and criminalization laws contribute to an environment that devalues the lives of women with HIV and puts us at risk of violence -- or even murder, like the recent case of Elisha Henson in Texas."

• There's a crater in the HIV care continuum for US women between linkage to care (70 percent) and staying in care (41 percent). Evidence is growing that healing the effects of trauma is key to filling that gap. Intimate partner violence (IPV) screening, and a trauma-informed approach, must become the norm for women with HIV in clinical and community-based settings to break the cycle of violence, trauma and HIV.

• For women living with HIV, violence is more deadly than the virus. A large study of women with HIV showed that those reporting recent abuse were 42 percent more likely to die than those who did not report recent trauma.

• Women with HIV who have experienced IPV could fill an entire city. There are roughly 300,000 women living with HIV in the US. More than half have experienced IPV. That's more than the population of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Berkeley, California, Peoria, Illinois, or Columbia, South Carolina.

• An analysis of studies in transgender and cisgender women showed that those reporting ongoing trauma had four times greater odds of having their HIV treatment stop working.

• 1/3 of US WLHIV have diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is what veterans live with when returning from war.

• 3 in every 4 US women living with HIV report a history of gender-based violence (compared with 1 in 4 women in the general population). Failure to address trauma is selling MOST women living with HIV short on their care, and the quality of their lives.

"Our lives matter! Women living with HIV are the strongest women I know, determined to survive. What has happened to so many of us in the past drags us under the surf and drowns us... help a sister out," said Barb Cardell, Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Colorado. "Trauma-informed care, programs that identify PTSD and IPV, economic justice and protecting the rights of ALL women can change the world and MUST be a part of every program or funding opportunity."

Loren Jones, co-founder of PWN-USA-Bay Area has high hopes that they will succeed in shedding light on one of America's dirtiest behind-closed-doors secrets, saying that IPV is not just a problem affecting resource-limited countries. It is a significant problem also in one of the richest, most scientifically developed countries with the best doctors and antiretroviral treatments in the world.

"This Thursday, the Bay Area of California will call out, and remember out loud, the names of women, including transgender women, that we have laughed and cried with through many seasons, whose lives were cut short by the violence within their homes, and who could not be saved by medication alone. Stand with us this Thursday, and shine a light against violence," said Jones.

Things You Can Do on the October 23 Day of Action:

• Check out their social media toolkit! Includes talking points and recommendations for action

• Change your Facebook and/or Twitter profile image to one of the images provided in the toolkit

• Tweet and post on Facebook using the toolkit's sample tweets and posts (or create your own); be sure to use the Day of Action hashtag #EndVAWHIV

• Raise your voice! Share your experiences! Contribute to a flash blog

• See what in-person events are happening throughout the U.S.

For more information, visit http://pwnusa.wordpress.com/take-action-2/get-involved-day-of-action-end-vawhiv/

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.