The 1980’s brought the world’s attention to HIV/AIDS, which quickly entered the social, medical, and political cultures of the United States. How the disease is contracted, who is at high risk of infection, as well as what existing treatments or prevention programs work (among a plethora of many other critical questions) have yet to become as ingrained across communities in the United States. December 1, recognized as World AIDS Day, is an international effort to raise awareness of the epidemic and honor those that have died in the wake of the global epidemic.
What is the connection between sexual assault and HIV/AIDS?
“The inability to negotiate safe sex in situations of sexual assault, the physical injuries that may accompany a sexual assault, and fear of ostracism all combine to increase women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other STIs and undermine their ability to protect their sexual health. At the core of the problem are gender-based inequalities that set the stage for various factors that directly and indirectly contribute to the spread of the virus” (Stop Violence Against Women).
The UNAIDS, the joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, coalesces the resources of the ten UN system organizations by working towards prevention of new HIV infections and treatment for people living with HIV. UNAIDS provides statistics on treatment, prevention, and legislation among other critical areas in the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
The UNAIDS issued a statement on November 25th, International Day of Elimination of Violence Towards Women, discussing the link between gender based violence and HIV. “According to a 2006 report by United Nations Secretary-General, one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, usually by someone known to her,” (2009, UNAIDS).
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, urges governments and communities to address gender-based violence:
“We need to scale up effective programs which promote gender equality at country level and invest more in building-up the evidence base. Policies and programs addressing gender inequality and gender-based violence will help achieve our universal targets for prevention, treatment and care. Investment in responses is an essential part of HIV programming.”
Understanding the intersection between HIV and gender-based violence influences not only the prevention and intervention efforts but also impacts how we approach our work as advocates, educators, researchers, and survivors in the field of sexual violence/violence against women. For instance, collaborating with partners in the HIV/AIDS field provides further insight into the reality survivors face. The intersection of sexual assault and HIV are not only an international public health concern but an urgent human rights issue that demands additional attention and energy.
To see a listing of events near you, please see the World AIDS Day 2009 Calendar.