Stories Absent from the Courtroom: Responding to Domestic Violence in the Context of HIV and AIDS
HIV/AIDS dramatically impacts domestic violence survivors' needs and demands reconceptualization of current responses to domestic violence. This article aims to illuminate the problem of domestic violence in the context of HIV/AIDS and to prompt further development of legal response systems. Specifically, this article brings together the worlds of law, public health, and women's lived experiences to argue for recognizing and responding to domestic violence in the context of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Utilizing accounts of clients' experiences and data from public health studies, this article sets forth eight categories of HIV/AIDS-related domestic violence: repercussions from partner notification, use of knowledge of a partner's HIV status to exert control, interference with medical treatment, inability to negotiate condom use, sexual assault, infidelity, intentional infection with HIV, and other ways survivors are at risk. The real-life stories in these categories show how HIV/AIDS changes the nature and consequences of intimate partner violence. Currently, the prevalence of the role of HIV/AIDS in domestic violence is not revealed in civil protection order cases because of the public nature of the proceedings and clients' concerns about discrimination. With the absence of these stories from the courtroom, litigants lose the therapeutic benefits of storytelling and receive less effective relief than appropriate because judges do not understand the events and are not able to award remedies tailored to the actual experiences of violence. The previously unrecognized voices of those who suffer at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence can serve to inspire procedural and substantive legal changes as well as specific response mechanisms. Procedural changes would make courtrooms safer places for revealing highly sensitive, socially stigmatizing, and otherwise confidential information. Substantive changes in domestic violence protection order laws would address complex situations of intimate partner violence, and judicial remedies could target HIV-related domestic violence. Through greater understanding of HIV/AIDS-related domestic violence, lawyers would serve as better advocates for their clients and would address their multiple needs. Finally, domestic violence response mechanisms need to employ coordinated interventions to provide lifesaving medical and legal care to survivors with HIV/AIDS and to those whose abusive partners have HIV/AIDS.