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Brenda's Journey

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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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Another powerful influence is the double standard that says women are supposed to be ignorant about sex and condemns them as "loose" or immoral if they take measures to protect themselves against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Many of the Latinas getting infected now are married and monogamous. They have no idea the men they love and trust have endangered their lives. The notion of the "naive virgin" is a killer.

"Our research on women who are HIV-negative has demonstrated there are a lot of ethnic and cultural issues around sexuality," says Wyatt. "There's a huge lack of information about how HIV can be transmitted. The perception of susceptibility still has not penetrated to the inner core of these communities. Particularly uninformed are married individuals or people in relationships who may not know their partner or spouse is an IV-drug user or gay or bisexual."

Those on the front lines of the epidemic are quick to point out, however, that the virus is attacking women of all backgrounds: college students, professionals, the wealthy. And because their numbers have been relatively small, women with HIV have largely been ignored by the research community. Until a few years ago, they were rarely invited to participate in clinical trials, the method by which critical new AIDS therapies are tested and developed.

The consequences are evident: Many women are appallingly uninformed about AIDS and their risk of getting it. "Unfortunately," says Johiro, "people still think of this as a gay disease."

The diagnosis has altered Brenda's life in a way that is impossible to name. "This is new, something you don't expect," says her stepfather Mario one morning over the din of a rerun of The Partridge Family on TV in the tidy apartment he shares with Brenda's mother. "The good Lord put us here for a test, and we're going through it." A quiet man of 61 who works as a pressman, he wonders why the HIV test isn't mandatory. "People don't check it out," he says. "Why don't they just do it?"

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