Focus Group Summary

A Focus Group Study of HIV Risk Behavior among African American Community College Students

Esther J. Jenkins, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Chicago State University

Focus groups were conducted in November-December, 2006 and in March-April in 2007 at two city colleges located in areas of the city with the highest HIV rates among African American women. A total of 47 women and 11 males participated in the groups.  The female groups were moderated by Ph.D. – level female faculty members (2) and the male groups were moderated by a male professor of counseling.   The focus groups were guided by a series of questions that asked about perceptions of the seriousness of HIV/AIDS in the black community and why it is increasing in the black community particularly among black women.  The following is a preliminary report on findings from the women’s focus groups.

The female participants agreed that HIV is a serious problem confronting the black community.  However, they also felt that there was quite a bit of information available on the virus and that they, in general, were reasonably well informed about how the virus is transmitted.  Many of the younger women reported that they learned about HIV/AIDS in high school. Major risk factors that put women in danger of contracting the virus included women’s drug and alcohol use, usually the latter,  which led to casual unprotected sexual encounters (“hooking up”), and unfaithful partners who “brought the virus home”.  There was much discussion about males’ resistance to using condoms and women’s reluctance to insist on such as it suggested a distrust of the male partner, possibly threatening the relationship. There was a general feeling that women were in considerable danger of contracting the virus in an apparently stable relationship or marriage and that safe sex is particularly difficult to negotiate in these circumstances. Many of the women in the groups, most of who were in committed relationships, reported regular HIV testing (for themselves but not their partners).  Although the women were rather pessimistic about changing risky behaviors (“folks just don’t care”), they thought that education and greater publicity around the virus and its affect was still important, particularly to dispel the myth that HIV carriers can be detected by their appearance.  It was noted that many of their parents stressed pregnancy prevention rather than disease prevention and it was believed that this still characterizes the messages that girls are taught about sex. Thus, there was the suggestion that a campaign to reduce risky behavior among teens should, in fact, focus on their mothers.  Responses to a question on the role of recently released inmates in the transmission of HIV in the black community were often mixed. Some women felt that these men were more likely to become infected while incarcerated (or to have gone in with the virus as a result of high risk life-styles)  whereas others noted that recently released felons may be at greater risk for contracting HIV immediately after their release from prison due to indiscriminate and unsafe sex practices.