Many people infected with HIV also have the burden of trying to figure out how to resolve the problems related to sexual abuse. It has come to my attention during the several years of working with the HIV-infected African American and Latino communities that sexual abuse is part of their history. Although most of the time such abuse goes on unreported, its damage to the emotional and psychological development of the individual is tangible and observable.
Many victims of sexual abuse grow up with a dwarfed sense of self-image, emotional intimacy and his or her sexuality. These individuals often engage in abusive sexual and high risky sexual practices that resuscitate their unresolved sexual trauma. Many other symptoms associated with sexual abuse are emotional isolation, social isolation, substance abuse, addictive behaviors and codependency relationships to name a few.
HIV infection comes to be the one of the side-effects of this traumatic experience as the individual learned to use his or her sexuality as a communication tool and/or as a way to attempt to seek intimacy. This maladaptive sexual behavior is visible by the multiple sexual partners and the lack of self protection from sexual transmitted infections. The sexual abused victim learns to use sex as a meter for his or her worthiness. As time passes the sexual abuse victim becomes confuse about sex, sensuality and healthy sexual boundaries. The sexual abuse victim comes to believe that his or her job is to sexually satisfy his or her sexual partner in order to be loved or valued.
As all these multiple issues/conflicts are going on the individual continue to have additional psychosocial factor that interfere with his or her emotional wellbeing, i.e., substance abuse, financial difficulties, housing problems, legal concerns, transportation, medical complications, etc.
Support groups for sexual abuse victims might be the first place of self exploration to assist the victim to resolve his or her trauma. Individual counseling also is a great source of help during the healing process of the abuse. It is unfortunately that many members of our community continue to view mental health services as “only for crazy people.” This current taboo continues to prolong the suffering of these victims and interfere with the ability to free oneself from the tentacles of such horrific trauma. If you or if you know of somebody suffering from this trauma, please seek help or educate them about receiving help through a counselor or spiritual leader. Everyone has the right to live a sexual life full of joy and free of guilt and shame about a gift from God.