Abusive Relationships Increase Women’s HIV Risk

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new study of nearly 14,000 U.S. women reveals that those who are in physically abusive relationships are at higher risk for HIV infection.

The study, which appears in the May/June issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, shows that “intimate partner violence,” which is physical or sexual assault of a spouse or partner, has become a significant public health concern around the world. While research on the problem has taken place in Africa and India, the new study is the first to look at the issue among a large number of women in the United States.

Researchers led by Jitender Sareen, M.D., used data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which conducted interviews with women ages 20 and older during 2004 to 2005. They analyzed information from 13,928 women who reported being in a romantic relationship during the last 12 months.

Researchers asked the women whether they had experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner during the last year, and whether they had received a diagnosis of HIV during the same time.


The researchers found that 5.5 percent of the women in relationships reported abuse by their partners. The rate of HIV infection in the women was 0.17 percent.

The results showed that women who experience violence from their partners were more than three times as likely to have HIV infection as women who do not. In addition, almost 12 percent of HIV infection among women was due to intimate partner violence.

“These numbers are solely due to forced sex on women from their infected partners. It is a substantial percentage,” said Sareen, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

“This is a very large sample of people and, on methodology side, it’s a decent study, so people will need to pay attention to it,” said Julia Heiman, director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University.

“The relationship between the two is definitely known worldwide,” Heiman said. “The partner violence issue, however, is an important one that often gets lost. The numbers that the researchers found should make people take notice that partner violence is definitely a risk factor for HIV.”