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U.S. HIV Cases Soaring Among Black Women

In her new book, "On the Up and Up," Brenda Stone Browder lashed out at her former husband, J.L. King, whose book, "On the Down Low," exposed the lifestyles of black men like himself who cheated on their female lovers with other men.

A recent analysis by the CDC determined that black men infected with HIV were less likely than other groups to disclose their sexual orientation to lovers, male or female. But researchers at health centers and universities say those explanations only scratch the surface of the real cause.

Barbara Chinn of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., discussed the growing HIV rate among black women.

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Black women are not more promiscuous than other groups of women, but they are the least likely to be married of all women because most live in communities where men are more scarce, Adimora said.

"A 22-year-old woman who has sex with multiple men in an area with very low HIV prevalence, such as a Georgetown bar for well connected young people in D.C. politics, probably has less chance of getting infected than a 22-year-old woman who had sex with only one man in a poor D.C. neighborhood with a very high HIV prevalence," Adimora said.

As black men cycle in and out of jail and prison, black women are torn from relationships and go on to have "more concurrent relationships," or more than one partner in communities where more people are infected, according to an article, "Social Context, Sexual Networks and Racial Disparities in Rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections," written by Adimora and Victor J. Schoenbach, an associate professor in UNC's school of medicine

"Incarceration directly affects sexual networks through disruption of existing partnerships," Adimora and Schoenbach wrote. Black men entering prison are placed in an environment with "a pool of individuals among whom . . . high risk sexual behaviors, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections are high."

HIV infection among prison inmates is estimated to be eight to 10 times higher than that of the general U.S. population, they wrote. But health experts can't point to any study of male sexual preferences before and after prison sentences, or in behavior once outside, Adimora said. Even if they could, she said, imprisonment and promiscuity in black communities are not the issue. The socioeconomic conditions that lead to them are.

A recent study by Rand Corp. and Oregon State University found that nearly half of all African Americans, almost regardless of age and income, believe that AIDS is a man-made disease, and many believe it was designed by the government to decimate their communities. The study attributed the belief, in part, to the Tuskegee experiment, in which the government studied the progression of syphilis in a group of black men between 1932 and 1972 while withholding treatment without their knowledge.

AIDS prevention activists say those beliefs are hampering efforts to fight the disease's spread in black communities.

Precious Jackson said people are responsible, too. She tells the women she counsels at Women Alive to take charge of their health, by whatever means. People cannot be trusted, she said -- something that became clear recently when she ran into her old boyfriend.

"He's out now," she said. "When I told him I was diagnosed, he apologized, said he was sorry, and that he didn't mean for this to happen. It was actually cool to see him."

Until he kept talking. "He said he had two more kids," Jackson said. "That's when I got mad. I said, 'How could you?' He said his girlfriend didn't want to use condoms. He said she knows he's infected."

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