Childhood Sexual Abuse and HIV Risk among Crack-Using Commercial Sex Workers in San Salvador, El Salvador: A Qualitative Analysis

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Abstract

This article explores the relationship between childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and later HIV risk. It draws on qualitative, in-depth interviews with 40 women who either used crack or engaged in commercial sex work in the greater metropolitan area of San Salvador, El Salvador, 28 of whom experienced CSA. Although the relationship between CSA and later HIV risk has been clearly demonstrated, the processes that lead women who have experienced CSA to experience HIV risk are unclear. The theoretical model presented here incorporates the psychological effects of CSA, particularly stigmatization, as well as its social consequences and the larger context of poverty in which these women live. The meanings women draw from past abuse experiences and their rationale for choices made help explain the association between CSA and later risk as mediated through sex work and crack addiction. Self-report data gathered in this study indicate that HIV prevalence may be considerably higher in this high-risk population than Salvadoran national rates.