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About Abuse

Abuse Among those Living with HIV

Updated: 
December 4, 2015

Information on domestic violence among those living with HIV.

How can the presence of HIV affect victims of abuse?

The presence of HIV/AIDS in an abusive relationship (either a heterosexual or homosexual relationship) creates its own unique set of challenges and can prove to be an additional obstacle to getting help.  An abuser may use a victim's HIV-positive (HIV+) status against him/her, and the stress of abuse can worsen a victim's health.*  A victim may also be dependent on an abuser to access necessary medical care.  Alternatively, an HIV-positive abuser may use his/her HIV status as a way of gaining control over the victim.

Here are some behaviors that abusers use to gain power and control over an HIV-positive (HIV+) victim:

  • Threatening to reveal a victim's HIV+ status to family, friends, co-workers, landlords, or in a custody case;
  • Making a victim feel guilty about the HIV+ status of his/her children;
  • Belittling a victim over his/her HIV+ status (e.g., telling the victim that no one will want him/her because of his/her HIV+ status);
  • Using the victim's HIV+ status as an excuse for violent behavior;**
  • Using a victim's HIV+ status as an excuse to isolate him/her from others and to take control of the victim's finances, making the victim more dependent on the abuser; and
  • Withholding, hiding or throwing away medicine, cancelling medical appointments or denying the victim access to medical care.*

* This information has been adapted from information compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs - see "HIV/AIDS and Domestic Violence"
** This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence - see "Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS"

How does the presence of HIV impact the abuser's behavior?

An HIV-positive abuser may use his/her HIV status as a way of gaining control over the victim.

Here are some behaviors that HIV-positive (HIV+) abusers use to gain power and control over a victim:

  • Manipulating a victim into believing that the abuser's health will get worse if the victim leaves;
  • Blaming the victim for any negative changes in the abuser's health;
  • Infecting or threatening to infect a victim to intimidate him/her into staying;*
  • Faking illness in order to get a victim to stay or to return if s/he has already left;**
  • Forcing the victim to do sexual acts against his/her will that put the victim at risk for contracting HIV or threatening to commit these acts; and
  • Purposefully trying to infect the victim under the theory that if the victim is also infected, there is a better chance that s/he won't leave the abuser.*

* This information has been adapted from information compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs - see "HIV/AIDS and Domestic Violence"
** This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence - see "Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS"