Violence and HIV among poor urban women in the USA

Physical and sexual violence predictors: 20 years of the women's interagency HIV study cohort.

Decker MR, Benning L, Weber KM, Sherman SG, Adedimeji A, Wilson TE, Cohen J, Plankey MW, Cohen MH, Golub ET. Am J Prev Med. 2016 Nov;51(5):731-742. pii: S0749-3797(16)30253-7. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.07.005. [Epub 2016 Aug 29]. 

Introduction: Gender-based violence (GBV) threatens women's health and safety. Few prospective studies examine physical and sexual violence predictors. Baseline/index GBV history and polyvictimization (intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse) were characterized. Predictors of physical and sexual violence were evaluated over follow-up.

Methods: HIV-infected and uninfected participants (n=2838) in the Women's Interagency HIV Study provided GBV history; 2669 participants contributed 26 363 person years of follow-up from 1994 to 2014. In 2015-2016, multivariate log-binomial/Poisson regression models examined violence predictors, including GBV history, substance use, HIV status, and transactional sex.

Results: Overall, 61% reported index GBV history; over follow-up, 10% reported sexual and 21% reported physical violence. Having experienced all three forms of past GBV posed the greatest risk (adjusted incidence rate ratio [AIRR]physical=2.23, 95% CI=1.57, 3.19; AIRRsexual=3.17, 95% CI=1.89, 5.31). Time-varying risk factors included recent transactional sex (AIRRphysical=1.29, 95% CI=1.03, 1.61; AIRRsexual=2.98, 95% CI=2.12, 4.19), low income (AIRRphysical=1.22, 95% CI=1.01, 1.45; AIRRsexual=1.38, 95% CI=1.03, 1.85), and marijuana use (AIRRphysical=1.43, 95% CI=1.22, 1.68; AIRRsexual=1.57, 95% CI=1.19, 2.08). For physical violence, time-varying risk factors additionally included housing instability (AIRR=1.37, 95% CI=1.15, 1.62); unemployment (AIRR=1.38, 95% CI=1.14, 1.67); exceeding seven drinks/week (AIRR=1.44, 95% CI=1.21, 1.71); and use of crack, cocaine, or heroin (AIRR=1.76, 95% CI=1.46, 2.11).

Conclusions: Urban women living with HIV and their uninfected counterparts face sustained GBV risk. Past experiences of violence create sustained risk. Trauma-informed care, and addressing polyvictimization, structural inequality, transactional sex, and substance use treatment, can improve women's safety.

Abstract access   [1]

Editor’s notes: Gender-based violence results in physical, sexual and mental health morbidities, including HIV risk behaviours and HIV infection. There is limited prospective research on risk factors for physical and sexual violence. This study characterised leading violence forms – that is, intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual assault and childhood sexual assault – among a cohort of low-income women living in six American cities, some of whom are living with HIV. It also examined predictors of violence experience during follow-up. This study found extensive gender-based violence of all types, listed above, among this cohort of 2838 HIV positive and HIV negative women. Lifetime gender-based violence history was highly prevalent among white women (72%), non-heterosexual women (74%), homeless / unstably housed women (80%) and among women with a sex work history (81%). Experience of different types of gender-based violence by baseline conferred significant risk for subsequent physical and sexual violence. HIV status did not confer risk for violence victimisation indicating that low-income women in this setting are at considerable risk for violence, regardless of their HIV status.

This study presents data from the largest ongoing prospective cohort study among American women living with HIV and includes a demographically matched HIV negative comparison group. The key limitation of this study was the non-probability sample, which limits generalisability of these results. The results are best generalised to urban American women in high-HIV prevalence settings. Additional cohort studies are necessary in other settings and contexts. However, the findings demonstrate the need to understand and address different forms of violence experienced by the same woman for violence prevention and health promotion. They support the USA 2015 National HIV/AIDS strategy recommendations to address violence and trauma for women both at risk for and living with HIV. 

Northern America [7]
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