New Program Helps Sexual Abuse Survivors with HIV/AIDS

A disproportionately high number of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors have HIV/AIDS. It is well established that survivors of CSA are at risk for numerous negative physical and mental health outcomes, including posttraumatic stress (PTSD), anxiety, depression, suicide, substance misuse, relationship and intimacy issues, and risky sexual behavior. Many people with a history of CSA have difficulty expressing their emotions and use negative coping strategies such as emotional avoidance, suppression, and denial. Feelings of low self-esteem, shame, and helplessness are common among CSA survivors and people with HIV. Because of the constellation of issues that these individuals face, interventions designed to prevent HIV may not be adequate. Strategies that teach adaptive coping skills could help CSA survivors with HIV learn how to handle emotional challenges in ways that can minimize future risk.

Kathleen J. Sikkema of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University in North Carolina recently led a study that compared two interventions aimed at CSA survivors with HIV/AIDS. She recruited 247 individuals and assigned half of them to Living in the Face of Trauma (LIFT), a program that empowers survivors by teaching them ways to cope with and process their emotions. The rest of the participants were assigned to a comparison intervention. All of the participants were evaluated before and after the program, and at three separate four-month intervals post-intervention.

The results revealed that the LIFT program, which taught people how to handle current life stressors with improved coping strategies, was far more effective than the traditional intervention. Sikkema believes the success can be attributed to the unique design of LIFT, which addresses the stress of HIV and CSA simultaneously while focusing on the emotional and behavioral byproducts of CSA and HIV. Even though PTSD was not specifically targeted in LIFT, the participants who had clinical levels of PTSD prior to beginning the program saw significant reductions in symptoms at the conclusion and throughout the follow-up period. Shame also was minimized, which could decrease future victimization in people who are at risk. Although the data was based on self-reports and was underrepresented by heterosexual men, Sikkema believes the findings can have broad clinical implications. “This mediation analysis enhances our understanding of the role of coping and related interventions to improve the mental health of people living with HIV/AIDS,” she said.

Reference:
Sikkema, K. J., Ranby, K. W., Meade, C. S., Hansen, N. B., Wilson, P. A., Kochman, A. (2012). Reductions in traumatic stress following a coping intervention were mediated by decreases in avoidant coping for people living with HIV/AIDS and childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030144

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  • Judith

    Judith

    October 22nd, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    Sexual abuse in childhood can really alter a person.I had a friend who was raped when she was only seven and the effect it had on her showed in her relationships.Now for someone to have that and HIV/AIDS could be so very stressful and tragic!

    Life events would change a lot for such an individual and they would need all the help and guidance they can get.Programs that are fine tuned for individuals like that present a new found opportunity to help them cope with all their challenges and probably get over them and move ahead in life like everybody else.

  • Dianna

    Dianna

    October 23rd, 2012 at 3:52 AM

    How sad to not only have to face the fact that you have been abused but are now also having to struggle with HIV or Aids, that must be alot for any one person to have to deal with. I feel so saddened that that there are actually far more people in society who have to live with this as their relaity daily, and I have never thought much about that and their needs ever.

  • Alexandra

    Alexandra

    October 23rd, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    I think survivors need to take it as a challenge and cope and fight with both things simultaneously.Its not easy but with determination nothing is impossible.And with a two-pronged enemy the rage against it might just get a helping hand.

  • fletcher

    fletcher

    October 23rd, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    how prevalent is HIV and Aids in childhood sexual abuse survivors?could it be improved by better reporting by the child survivors?Would an awareness campaigns,for example in schools,help?I have this idea of a program wherein children could be made aware of and encouraged to report anything like that.

  • alan

    alan

    October 23rd, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    the emotional toll that childhood abuse can take is just too high.add to that the constant issues in relationships that come about as a direct result of the abuse and it soon turns into a complex problem.now to have HIV in such a situation would shatter anybody.I don’t know how many such people are out there but I certainly believe they need all the help they can get and especially with regard to handling their emotions in a situation such as this one.it can be difficult for even the most optimistic individuals out there!

  • Toni Stax

    Toni Stax

    October 23rd, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Kind of thinking that more inclusive sex ed is needed with survivors because maybe they are prone to being more sexually promiscuous than others and that this could be contributing to the spike in numbers for HIV and AIDS?

  • William

    William

    October 24th, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    because they are affected by two separate yet inter-related issues,this group would need specailized help and I’m just glad there is promise for the smae.Hoping this is implemented to help the group.

  • juanna

    juanna

    October 25th, 2012 at 4:34 AM

    Hopefully we will start to see the growth of more programs like LIFT to help these people overcome these very real challenges that they are forced to deal with.

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