Risk & Protective Factors

HIV can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, ability, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity. In the United States, HIV risk factors include unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex, men who have sex with men, multiple sexual partners, anonymous sexual partners, individuals who exchange sex for drugs or money, individuals diagnosed with hepatitis, TB, or a STD, and those receiving blood products from 1978 to 1985.

While risk factors are the same across all groups (Earnshaw, V. et al, 2013) there are communities who are more impacted by HIV than others due to a complex set of variables. In the sections below, we will highlight specific communities and their high risk for contracting HIV, needs, contributing factors, barriers to services, and best practices.

Protective factors are internal and external tools, skills, resources, and beliefs that help individuals and communities mitigate risk. Protective factors lean on individuals’ and community-wide strengths and resilience to protect them from the impact of environmental stressors, risky behaviors, and adversity. Family, religion, social connection, and education are all part of the protective safety net. Utilizing a model of empowerment theory, drawing on inherent community values, pride, and power may help to reduce risk of HIV. Additionally, community-based interventions should be community-led and not just situated in the “target” community. For example, faith-based interventions which do not stigmatize survivors with HIV or at risk of HIV as a result of violence may increase resilience. For many survivors of color at risk of or experiencing violence and HIV, religion and spiritual practices are a cornerstone of healing and support.