Turning HIV Prevention for Girls “Inside Out!”

By Rob Banaszak on May 27, 2011 in GENERATIONS

by Traci Callender
Bronx AIDS Services

Known as one of the epicenters for the HIV virus, New York City is home to more than 40,000 women living with HIV/AIDS (New York City Department of Health 2010).  Bronx AIDS Services (BAS) is located in the Bronx, New York, where the impact of HIV/AIDS has been disproportionate and deadly. Twenty three percent of all black female PLWHA’s in NYC who died in 2008 were from the Bronx and 43.8% of all NYC Latina PLWHA deaths were among Bronx female residents (NYCHOHMH 2008).

Since 1998, BAS’ GO GIRL program has provided sexual health-related services to adolescent girls and young women (ages 12-24) including community outreach; HIV/ STI prevention; HIV counseling and testing; substance abuse prevention counseling; peer leadership and education training and a youth prevention theater program. While the existing GO GIRL curricula more than adequately educated participants on HIV transmission and safer sex strategies, program staff recognizes that participants deal with additional risk factors that are not covered by the interventions, more specifically: lack of self-esteem, low familial expectations, depression, low self-efficacy, insufficient support systems, and a wide range of mental health issues. Armed with a clear gap in community needs versus resources and a grant from AIDS United’s GENERATIONS program, BAS has developed the Inside Out intervention which aims to address the needs of urban adolescent girls who are facing personal risk factors that are beyond the scope of our existing HIV/AIDS prevention curricula.

Inside Out is an eight week, 16 session HIV prevention intervention designed to take young women (ages 14-18) who already possess a basic level of knowledge about HIV risk factors and prevention strategies and provide them with a second level intervention that delves into their personal risk factors and triggers for risky sexual behaviors. The curriculum, developed by BAS with the assistance of the AIDS United TA team, consists of eight group sessions and eight individual sessions. The eight group sessions focus on maintaining optimal sexual health: assertive communication, sexual readiness, sexual coercion, healthy relationships, coping skills/resiliency, self-esteem building, goal setting, and gender roles and expectations. The general structure of each session includes an icebreaker, 2 or more activities followed by a discussion, journal writing, and a Facebook note. Participants also meet individually with a licensed clinical social worker, or Adolescent Wellness Coordinator, to reinforce concepts from group but also to discuss ongoing personal issues that may affect their ability to implement safer sex strategies into their lives.

Since the start of the grant, BAS has completed the curriculum and implemented services with 28 young women. By adding the Inside Out intervention to the services that BAS already renders to the targeted population, we have been able to retain some of the higher risk (and harder to reach) participants and engage them in discussions and activities that aim to guide them in maintaining optimal sexual health. Participants have reported looking forward to Inside Out as the next step in their HIV prevention education at BAS. After successfully completing Inside Out, 17 year old Tayanna commented “This is information that I can use, not just stuff to know.” Shawna, a 16 year old graduate of the program, stated “They should teach us this kinda stuff in school instead of Geometry. Maybe so many girls wouldn’t get pregnant or catch something even worse.”

The AIDS United grant has absolutely increased BAS’s ability to provide a more comprehensive HIV prevention program for one of the most vulnerable populations. Simply put, condom distribution and demonstrations does not begin to scratch the surface of HIV prevention with young women of color. Giving information does little when a person is not empowered to use it. Inside Out has afforded BAS the opportunity to have those difficult conversations with young people and aid them in identifying their personal barriers to protecting their greatest resource… their health.

For more information about the Inside Out program. please contact: Traci Callender at tcallender@basnyc.org.

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