Screening for Sexual Trauma, Intimate Partner Violence and Mental Health Symptoms among HIV Positive South African Women


Sikkema, Kathleen J

Yemeke, Tatenda Tariro





Global Health


Background: The psychological sequelae of sexual trauma and physical intimate partner violence (IPV) exposure can lead to poor HIV care outcomes, including poor treatment adherence. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of and factors associated with mental health symptoms and trauma among HIV positive women. Additionally, the study aimed to assess the feasibility and acceptability of screening for trauma and mental health symptoms among HIV positive South African women. Finally, the study aimed to elicit healthcare workers’ perceptions related to sexual trauma and the provision of care and services for HIV positive women with trauma histories.

Methods: The study utilized a mixed-methods approach that included a cross-sectional survey of 70 HIV positive women recruited through referral sampling and key informant interviews with seven healthcare workers (HCWs). A study-screening instrument consisting of 24 items from standard measures was used to screen women for sexual trauma, physical intimate partner violence (IPV), depression and PTSD. Sexual trauma and IPV were assessed across the lifetime, while depression and PTSD were current assessments. Logistic regression models were used to explore the relationship between trauma exposure and mental health symptoms, while controlling for age and education. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed for emergent themes on HCWs perceptions on sexual trauma and HIV care.

Results: Among participants, 51% had sexual trauma experience and 75% had intimate partner violence (IPV) experience. Among participants, 36% met screening criteria for major depression; among those with traumatic experiences (n=57), 70% met screening criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Compared to having no sexual trauma or IPV exposure, having both sexual trauma and IPV was significantly associated with higher odds of depression (OR = 8.11; 95% CI 1.48-44.34), while having either IPV or sexual trauma individually was not significantly associated with increased odds of depression. Compared to having either IPV or sexual trauma, having both sexual trauma and IPV was not significantly associated with PTSD. Responses from participants’ feedback on screening process suggest that screening was feasible and acceptable to participants. Some of the health care workers (HCWs) did not perceive dealing with trauma to be part of their duties, but instead viewed social workers or psychologists as the appropriate health cadre to provide care related to trauma and mental health.

Conclusions: High levels of sexual trauma, IPV and mental health distress were reported among HIV positive women in this setting. Screening for trauma and mental health symptoms was acceptable to the participants, but several challenges were encountered in implementing screening. Given the potential impact of trauma and mental health on HIV care engagement, interventions to address trauma and its psychological sequelae are needed.



Public health


Health sciences


South African studies


Screening for Sexual Trauma, Intimate Partner Violence and Mental Health Symptoms among HIV Positive South African Women


Master's thesis




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