Chronic illnesses including HIV/AIDS and domestic violence

Chronic illnesses (eg HIV/AIDS, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimers, etc) can cause tension, stress and a range of other problems within a relationship but they do not cause domestic violence. Abusive partners (or ex-partners) choose the weapons of abuse and control they use, and their or their partners’ health can be used as one of these weapons. In some abusive relationships the domestic violence began at or around the time that the illness was diagnosed.

In some cases of domestic violence the abusive partner is the one with the
illness while in others it is the one without the illness that is abusive. Within
an abusive relationship where either or both of the partners has a chronic illness many of the forms of abuse and control may exist. However there are a number of forms of domestic violence that are specific to relationships where either or both partners have a chronic illness.

"At one point I became very sick. I couldn't even walk to the bathroom. She refused to drive me to the doctor and she said I was exaggerating" (Ruth, 48)

If the abusive partner does not have a chronic illness (eg is HIV negative) they may:

  • Threaten to, or actually, disclose their partner’s health status to friends,
    family or colleagues.
  • Withhold medication, treatments or access to other medical services.
  • Threaten to cut off support or to leave.
  • Verbally abuse their partner by saying they are ‘diseased, sick, unclean’ or other inappropriate comments about their illness, or otherwise undermine their partner’s confidence.

If the abusive partner does have a chronic illness (eg is HIV positive) they may:

  • Use guilt or other psychological abuse to manipulate their partner.
  • Refuse to take medication or seek medical services.
  • Use their illness to manipulate services, eg saying ‘I’m weak and sick, how
    could I control him/her?’.
  • Where relevant, threaten to, or actually, infect their partner to prevent
    them leaving.

As sexual assault is a common form of domestic violence, sexually transmissible
infections (eg HIV, Hepatitis B) pose a special risk to the uninfected partner. As well as the domestic violence services listed here, there are a range of support services that someone with a chronic illness may be able to contact. These include:

  • A trusted doctor, nurse or other health care worker or a hospital social
    worker or counsellor.
  • Centrelink (13 10 21).
  • The AIDS Council of NSW- ACON (9206 2000 / 1800 063 060).
  • Illness specific support groups eg the Cancer Council (9334 1846 / 13 11 20) or MS Society, NSW (1800 04 21 38) for information on treatments, legal rights, support services, and so on. These groups may not have experience providing support to gay men or lesbians escaping domestic violence but may be able to provide support around the specific requirements of the illness. Look in the White Pages for contact details for specific groups.