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Abstract

A qualitative study was conducted with 28 women who are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–positive and have experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in order to examine (1) the challenges generated by the experience of sexual abuse and related coping strategies, (2) the impact of the HIV diagnosis on their coping strategies, and (3) the links perceived by the women between their CSA and HIV infection. The interviews revealed that CSA raised challenges in four areas: disclosure of the abuse, sexual problems, relationship difficulties, and psychological distress. The women used two strategies to cope with their CSA: illicit substances to numb their emotional distress and sexual activity, and alienation to gain control in relationships. When diagnosed with HIV, the women initially coped with their illness by using these two strategies. The women reported that, over time, they were able to accept their HIV illness, seek social support, find alternative sources of significance, and use spirituality to sustain their growth. However, they continued to suffer psychological distress related to their sexual trauma. Further, most of the women did not perceive any connection between the two traumas. Implications of these findings for secondary prevention interventions with women who have HIV and experience of CSA are discussed. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Comm Psychol 33: 655–672, 2005.