25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence

PRESS STATEMENT - Violence tolerated while HIV is on the rise
The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) declares our full support for all survivors and victims of sexual, physical and psychological violence.

ICW is deeply concerned not only about the rising levels of violence against women globally but that in the 21st century people still believe that women 'bring it on themselves';. For instance, a third of people in the UK believe a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously, a recent Amnesty International poll of 1,000 people suggests. The poll also found over 25% of those interviewed believe she is at least partly to blame if she has worn revealing clothing or been drunk. Nearly 15% of respondents thought a woman would be partly responsible for being raped if she was known to have many sexual partners, and 8% totally responsible. Worryingly, this tolerance for sexual violence is reflected in the UK legal system - fewer than 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction, the lowest conviction rate ever recorded in the UK.

Rape is a crime. Wearing a short skirt, having many sexual partners, flirting and getting drunk are not.

In the same week as the release of this report from Amnesty, clearly showing that sexual violence against women is not taken seriously in the UK, we also hear from the UK Health Protection Agency that the number of people with HIV in the UK has risen by more than 5,000 in a year. Increases in other sexually transmitted infections, such as Chlamydia and syphilis, were also recorded.

Of course, violence against women, including sexual violence, and increasing levels of HIV are not just UK phenomena. The UNAIDS update released this week shows that HIV is still on the rise in almost all countries around the globe and a WHO study of domestic violence in 10 countries illustrates that it is widespread with far-reaching health consequences. (See http://womenandaids.unaids.org)

How are these bodies of evidence connected? Violence against women leads directly to increased levels of HIV and STIs. Violence and the fear of violence negates women's ability to have any semblance of control over maintaining and protecting their health or the sexual health of those that have sex with them. Yet judgemental attitudes across society give a green light to violence against women and lead to perpetrators going unpunished.

Moreover, HIV positive women often experience much violence, as a result of our HIV diagnosis. We have also felt the tide of public opinion turn against us when our HIV status has become known. But being HIV positive is not a crime.

International and national laws enshrine the right of women, whether HIV positive or negative, to live free of violence, including sexual violence, and we urge governments to uphold these commitments. We also urge the media and the public to recognise their responsibility in condemning real crime - the crime of rape and violence against women - rather than people's lifestyles or HIV status.

    • If you want to read more about the links between gender violence and HIV, from HIV positive women's perspectives visit our Publications page.**

ICW 2005