Dr. Nina Harawa speaking at the health conference.
Is your boyfriend or husband having sex with someone else?
Have you ever been tested for HIV/AIDS?
Why are you putting yourself at risk?
In a silent world where few questions are asked, HIV flourishes—and women are increasingly placed at great risk.For more information about the study please call 323 357-3484 or visit www.breakingthesilenceevent.com/studyinfo
That’s why empowering women to question assumptions that make them vulnerable was one of the main themes of Saturday’s community health conference: “Breaking the Silence: Black and Latina Women Finding Ways to Take Care of Ourselves in Our Relationships with Men.”
“We want women to tune into themselves and know that they have choices,” said Nina Harawa, Ph.D., researcher and assistant professor at Charles Drew University. “Women need to evaluate the information they receive from friends, families and churches and determine what they need to survive.”
More than 200 people participated in the all-day event at King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles. Charles Drew University sponsored the conference along with UCLA, Los Angeles CARE Center, and Women at Risk.
In one opening session, Dr. Neva Chaupette, a psychologist and consultant, urged her audience to think hard about traditional views of relationships passed down over the generations as “pearls of wisdom.”
“Some of these pearls of wisdom may be pearls of poison,” she said.
The workshops and panel discussions focused on the roles that culture and gender play in making healthy lifestyle choices. Personal decisions about sex, drug use and partner selection were evaluated in a relaxed atmosphere to encourage discussions.
“I think that all people are interested in freeing themselves from oppression, even self imposed oppression,” Chaupette said. “We need to live in truth.”
Living in today’s truth means understanding the necessity to question a partner’s HIV status. A major objective of the conference was to heighten awareness of the high risk of infection for African American and Latino women due to heterosexual contact with men who have sex with men.
Over 60 women accessed the free HIV testing services provided on site by the Bienestar and Charles Drew University mobile testing units. It is recommended that all sexually active adults get tested for HIV once a year.
“You must be responsible for your own safety and protection,” said John Kelly, senior health community worker at JWCH Institute, Inc., who led a breakout session: “Where are the Brothas at? Heterosexual Men in HIV Prevention.”
Kelly said he has counseled bisexual men who refuse to tell their female partners that they are HIV-positive.
“They don’t hear a word you say,” Kelly said. “At that point, it comes down to ‘me, me, me, me.’ They want to know ‘what’s going to happen to me if I tell?’ Getting them to tell their partner is like pulling teeth.”
Conference speaker Yolanda Salinas told the audience that she learned that she was HIV positive more than a decade ago after a relationship with a bisexual man who didn’t tell her he was having sex with other men.
“Don’t be afraid to ask a question. Ignorance is still out there,” Salinas said. “And what cures ignorance? Education cures ignorance.”
According to Dr. Harawa, women should also be concerned about HIV risk from men who have other female partners; however, “the possibility that one’s boyfriend or husband has sex with another man is often something that women don’t want to think about or keep silent about because they feel ashamed or fear ridiculed.” Hence, the conference theme “Breaking the Silence.”
Breaking the Silence was initiated from a grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institutes for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to help study this significant issue for women’s health. The NIH-funded research study involves African American and Latino adult women and is being conducted by Dr. Nina Harawa of Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Department of Research.
Women who are HIV positive and unsure how they or their partners became infected are being recruited for the study. In addition, women who are currently or who have had past sexual relationships with a man who has had sex with another man are being recruited for the study.
Each study participant will complete a 60-to-70 minute, one-on-one interview along with a brief survey. The interview will examine psychosocial factors surrounding the participant’s sexual relationships with men; discuss attitudes and behaviors regarding health-related research, health care, and STD/HIV prevention; and explore how HIV-positive women with unidentified sexual risk perceive they and their partners were infected.
Data collected from this study will help inform prevention efforts and provide information to better address the HIV epidemic in women of color. Participants receive $40 in cash.
Photos from Breaking The Silence