HIV can intensify any relationship, and make a bad one turn abusive and violent. Any kind of abuse — demeaning comments, manipulative mind games, forced sex, hitting — puts your health at risk and affects your quality of life. HIV doesn’t mean you have to put up with it and you can get help.
“He’s never hit me, but…”
There’s more to abuse than physical violence. It’s really about control, because that’s what an abusive person is trying to get and keep. He (or she)* starts by controlling you through words or actions — limiting your contact with friends or family, shutting you out emotionally when you do something he doesn’t like. Abuse takes the form of:
- verbal incidents: Basically, anything he says to keep you with him, which can appear sweet or nasty. When things are good, he says no one’s ever going to love you like he does, that you make him so jealous/ overprotective/ controlling because you are so beautiful/ sexy/ irresistible. When things are in a downward spiral, he says you’re worthless, ugly, and stupid, and that having HIV makes you dirty and unlovable. He says you’re lucky to have him (trying to keep you close). He discourages or forbids connect with friends and family; you can’t get support. There can also be threats of physical and sexual violence.
- psychological manipulation (a.k.a. “mind games”): he says one thing but does another. If you’re not in tune with these sudden changes, you’re attacked verbally, physically or sexually, so you always have to watch your step. Your partner threatens violence if you don’t behave in certain ways.
- sexual abuse: your partner insists on sex whether you want it or not. Safer sex is an impossibility.
- physical abuse: slapping, kicking, punching, injury with a weapon, being thrown into walls, and an unfortunate list of etceteras. Smashing things to frighten and intimidate you could also be a tactic.
- After things have been really bad for a while, and escalated to some kind of incident, he’ll often say he’s sorry and promise “It will never happen again.” It will.
Even the threat of abuse affects your health
Abuse affects your ability to look after yourself. It’s stressful, which compromises your immune system. It can limit your ability to get to a doctor or other supports, and seek care.
If you’re in an abusive relationship practicing safer sex can be difficult. To protect yourself, it’s important to do what you can and recognize that you won’t always have a choice. Disclosing your HIV status to your partner could cause more abuse, but not doing so has legal implications, so getting support is crucial. Take care of your health by seeing a doctor regularly.
If you want to leave the relationship, there are safe houses to help make the transition.
Think out an escape plan so you can get help when you’re in danger. Include phone numbers of people you can call once you’re out, a nearby transition house (safe house), and some money (if you can). In an emergency situation, call 911 and ask for the police.
You might feel alone, but you don’t have to be. Part of the nature of a violent and abusive relationship is that the abuser tries to convince his victim that she’s alone and isolated. You’re not. For 24 hour support, call VictimLink (24 hour Crisis line 7 days a week) 1.800.563.0808 anywhere in BC (TTY 604.875.0885). We’ve helped lots of women in abusive situations, so contact us.
* While women in relationships with women can also experience violence, it’s more often an issue between women and men, hence the use of “he” throughout.