Structural Violence and Racial Disparity in HIV Transmission

Abstract Among women of color in the United States, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is rising. Most of the research on this topic, however, has focused on individual-level risk factors, which do not fully explain racial or ethnic differences in infection rates. This article uses structural violence as a conceptual framework to examine ecological-level risk factors leading to disparate rates of heterosexually transmitted HIV among women of color in Syracuse, New York. Three ecological pathways to disproportionate infection are discussed: community rates of infection, concurrent partnerships, and increased vulnerability. The discussion of the pathways considers the following macro-level risk factors: disproportionate incarceration rates of African American men, residential segregation, gang turf, constraints on access to sexually transmitted disease services, an African American sex ratio in which women outnumber men, social norms stigmatizing homosexuality, and commercial sales of douching products. The authors argue that health care providers and policy analysts must address ecological-level risk factors for HIV transmission in underserved communities.