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Gender-based Violence: Women with HIV

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to assist women with HIV who are experiencing gender-based violence.

My Lords, sexual health and HIV services are already sensitive to the risk of domestic abuse and sexual violence, including gender-based violence, in their routine consultations. In recent years, the Government have put nearly £40 million into specialist domestic and sexual violence support services and national helplines. We have also set up 15 new female rape support centres to raise the total to 86. We have taken strong action in the fight to eradicate female genital mutilation.

I thank the Minister for that reply but, with respect, it is not sufficient to answer the Question that I asked, which was about the relationship between HIV and sexual and gender abuse. Does the Minister not accept that the Government have a responsibility to work across the relevant departments, as others have said, to ascertain the number of women who are in this dire situation, to encourage them to seek support and help, which they so desperately need but which many are prevented from doing because of the stigma of their situation; and crucially to provide the resources, both staffing and financial, to help these women in such terrible situations?

The noble Baroness raises the very profound point about stigma. Where people suffer from both HIV and domestic abuse, they are extremely vulnerable and feel it very difficult to raise these issues. The Government have done a lot to try and remove the stigma and make it easier for these very vulnerable women to come forward. I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware of the sexual assault referral centres. There are now 43 of those, funded by NHS England, the police and local authorities. They are a good example of cross-government support.

My Lords, in 2012 the coalition Government set up a new research and innovation fund to collect information about violence against women in 10 African and Asian countries with the view to setting a new prevention strategy. Could the Minister tell us anything about how that strategy is progressing? Given the risk of HIV to many of these women, will that issue be covered in the strategy?

I think I am right that there are some 16 million women worldwide who suffer from HIV/AIDS so it is a huge problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. I am not familiar with the innovation fund to which the noble Baroness referred, but I will investigate that and write to her.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are many African men living in the UK who deny that they may be HIV positive, refuse to have a test and therefore put women at risk? What will the Government do about that?

I believe that some 103,000 people are HIV positive in England, of whom two-thirds are men. The majority of people who are HIV positive come from sub-Saharan Africa. The noble Baroness made the point that some who know they are HIV positive are not taking appropriate action and asked what we can do about them. It is also worth pointing out that some 18% of people who are HIV positive are ignorant of the fact. We have a very big communication programme ongoing to try and educate and inform these men, and we will continue putting the necessary resources into those programmes.

My Lords, given that today is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, has the Minister taken a moment to see the associated ActionAid exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall? In respect of women with HIV, the only survey we seem able to find about the prevalence of domestic violence is a 2013 one from Homerton, which showed that probably half of women with HIV reported experience of partner violence. Could the Minister undertake that there should be more research on this and that, if such a figure is found to be confirmed, everyone dealing with HIV women should be taught to be aware of their vulnerability to domestic violence?

I have not been to the Upper Waiting Hall to see the exhibition but will endeavour to do so if I have time after Questions this afternoon. The noble Baroness referred to the research done at the Homerton in 2013. I think the figure that study came up with was 52%. There has been a subsequent study but I cannot remember the name of it. It may not have been as extensive as the one done at the Homerton and put a figure slightly less than 52%—but it was still very significant. I will ask officials the status of that subsequent research to see whether we need more.