Rampant child abuse in shack communities fuels HIV risk
Study links childhood trauma to risky sexual behaviour
To the numerous obvious miseries of living in informal settlements, researchers have added a new worry: the childhood abuse that is rife there makes young adults more likely to contract HIV.
Sexual abuse, in particular, has a strong link to risky sexual behaviour among 18- to 30-year-olds, say South African Medical Research Council experts.
Writing in the journal PLOS One, lead researcher Rachel Jewkes said interventions to reduce harsh parenting were critically important, as were psychological steps to help young people deal with childhood trauma.
Working in Durban informal settlements, Jewkes’s team asked 680 women and 677 men to answer 11 questions about their childhoods. Three-quarters said they had experienced emotional and physical abuse. “The most common form of physical abuse was being beaten with a belt, stick, or something hard,” said Jewkes.“One third of women and almost half of men reported at least one type of sexual abuse.”
Previous research had shown that childhood abuse had short-term and long-term effects on people’s health.
“Women and men who have experienced childhood traumas are more likely to report a range of sexual risk behaviour, including more likely to trade sex for cash, experience or perpetrate intimate partner violence, engage in risky alcohol use and drug use, and have more sex partners,” said Jewkes.
Work she did in 2010 had found that those who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to contract HIV.
In the Durban study, “the experience of violence and abuse during childhood for this vulnerable and relatively young population was exceedingly high”.
Jewkes added: “Additionally, there were incredibly consistent findings across women and men whereby childhood traumas, assessed in a wide variety of ways, were consistently associated with a range of HIV-risk behaviours.”
The findings also added to growing evidence that informal settlements were “particular sites of vulnerability for childhood trauma as well as sites of poor health more widely and yet under-resourced in terms of access to services”.
Said Jewkes: “At a very basic level, understanding why the levels of sexual abuse in the population are so high is critical.”