Does Past Child Sexual Abuse Raise the Risk of Contracting HIV?

Recent study says yes.

Posted: 08/07/2012 06:59 PM EDT
Filed Under HIV, AIDS, sex abuse, Health News

It’s not a secret that African-Americans are heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS. African-Americans make up a mere 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, but we account for almost half of all new HIV infections that are diagnosed each year. It's estimated that 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 32 Black women.


And while factors such as disproportionate poverty, lack of access to quality health care and IV drug use, to name a few, make us more vulnerable, past research has found that a history of past trauma — physical and sexual abuse — also puts us further at risk.


To add to the growing body of research, a recent Drexel University study found that a past history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) not only raised a person’s risk of contracting HIV, but decreased the likelihood of them getting tested for the virus, getting diagnosed early, getting to link to care and starting antiretrovirals.


Looking for a history of past sexual abuse, STD infection and HIV infection, the researchers looked at data collected from 2004-2005 that involved 40,000 people (including a large number of African-American and Latinos) from different sexual orientations. According to the study’s abstract, they found the following:


— People of color, especially African-American and Latinos were more likely to report a history of abuse.


— Overall, 14.9 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men reported a history of past childhood sexual abuse.


— Bisexual women were 5.3 times more likely to experience CSA and lesbian women were 3.4 times more likely compared to heterosexual women. 


— Among men, bisexual men were 12.8 times more likely to experience CSA, while gay men were 9.5 times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts.


— Men and women with a past history of abuse were significantly more likely to be infected with HIV and/or other STDs compared to those who had not been abused.


Past history of sexual abuse and trauma can make it very difficult for survivors to negotiate condom use in relationships and establish healthy sexual boundaries.


And while this data gives HIV prevention specialists an added incentive to screen clients for past sexual abuse, Dr. Theresa Sweet, the study’s lead author, is clear that her research is not saying that past CSA makes people gay, lesbian or bisexual. Nor is she saying that heterosexual women are not impacted by HIV and CSA.


Also, she told The Grio that this research isn’t meant to “stigmatize” sexual abuse survivors, or make assumptions that everyone living with HIV/AIDS is a victim. “We don’t really know why some people who are abused fair better than others, but we do know that some people who can talk about what happened to them and have a support system, whether it be family, mental health support seem to [do] better.”


These findings were announced at the International AIDS Conference, which was held in Washington, D.C., last month.


To learn more about HIV/AIDS and African-Americans go here.


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