Pamela Goodwin started Women In Motion, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, after recognizing she was at high risk for contracting HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. She wants to help other women – especially women of color – in the same situation.
But Goodwin said it was difficult for many black and brunette women to tap into the resources offered by groups like his. For some, HIV testing is not a top priority.
âThey need food, they need different things, especially transportation, to get them back and forth to groups, you know, who are going to take care of their children,â Goodwin said.
So in addition to providing HIV resources, Women in Motion also connects clients with child care, domestic violence resources, food and transportation.
This type of global awareness is especially important for black women. They account for almost 60 percent of new HIV diagnoses among women. And the rate of new diagnoses in black women is 14 times the rate in white women.
Alan Witchey, president of the Indianapolis AIDS nonprofit, the Damien Center, said outreach methods for one group don’t necessarily work for another.
âAnd that means we have to deliver services differently than we did before when we didn’t,â Witchey said.
HIV campaigns have traditionally focused on reaching men who have sex with men – with awareness events in bars and nightclubs. But these are not good places to reach working mothers.
Witchey said the stigma associated with HIV is still a huge barrier to getting care, especially in communities of color. Some people do not want to be seen seeking care in a place that helps fight HIV.
âNot everyone feels comfortable coming to our home base,â Witchey said.
Damien Center is trying to solve this problem and reach more women – especially more women of color with families. This year, he opened a satellite site within the Community Alliance of the Far East Side.
The alliance is also home to other services such as career development, a legal clinic and childcare services.
âWe thought it was a safe place for women and families to go, if they were already receiving services, and it wouldn’t necessarily be some kind of stigma to come into our main office,â Witchey said.
Tammy Morris, executive director of the nonprofit Aliveness Project in northwest Indiana, has also seen the impact of this stigma. She said people avoid getting tested and it leads to more infections.
âI still have women who haven’t told someone in their family that they are HIV positive,â Morris said.
Morris said the stigma stems from the misinformation and demographics that were targeted when the epidemic emerged 40 years ago.
âHe was a white gay man,â Morris said. âThey were gay men, and then there were women they called sex workers. There was the drug addict population. But no heterosexual woman wants to come back and say I had it because my male partner was also having sex.
To combat this stigma, Morris said there needs to be more conversations about sex and how HIV is transmitted. These conversations are already rare, but even more so in the black community.
Morris said the community is also key to reaching more women. She hopes to connect newly diagnosed women with older HIV-positive women to increase both awareness of the virus and the number of women who remain on treatment.
âI’m really trying to find a way to bring them together,â Morris said. “Because I believe they could learn from them, can learn from the history of women who survived the diagnosis, and despite the diagnosis, to be able to live long and productive lives.”
Debra Stanley started working in the HIV field 30 years ago.
âI didn’t feel enough education and prevention service around social health issues,â Stanley said. âHIV was just emerging in our community. “
She is the founder and executive director of Imani Unidad, a nonprofit HIV prevention and advocacy organization in South Bend, Indiana. She said the organization is focusing on black and brown communities as they need more outreach.
âIt’s not enough,â Stanley said. “And it’s the need to listen to us when we say that’s who we are and what we need. Because one of the things I keep saying is that you can’t not treat us in isolation First, you cannot continue to treat us as if we were behavior.
Stanley said black women are often hyersexualized and accused of having contracted HIV or sexually transmitted infections.
She has seen some progress over the past 30 years. But as long as black women continue to be disproportionately diagnosed with HIV, Stanley sees more work to be done.
âWe just have to stay the course,â Stanley said. âAnd we have to raise young defenders, do the same to keep them encouraged, to give them a historical perspective. And tell them this is the foundation, go ahead and make it better.
This story was produced by WFYI’s Side Effects Public Media, an information collective covering public health. He is the second in a three-part series on HIV infections in black women. To read the first story, click here.