The goal of the Men’s Assessment of Social Support and Risk Networks was to pilot test recruitment procedures and questionnaires to assess the influence of social networks and norms and beliefs of a racially and ethnically diverse sample of men who have sex with men (MSM) on their sex and sex-drug risk and risk reduction practices.
Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS) was used to recruit 216 MSM who completed a face to face questionnaire on their social networks, their own and their network members’ norms about and influence on sex-drug risk practices, and their own and their network members’ sex/sex-drug use risk/risk-reduction practices. They also completed a self-administered questionnaire about their attitudes and beliefs as well as their HIV status.
Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS) is an innovative technique for efficiently recruiting samples of “hard to reach” populations drawn from ramified social networks. It has been widely used in HIV research around the world to study IV drug users and MSM. As a codified and sophisticated implementation of a traditional snowball sample; when properly implemented and when certain assumptions are met, it can be used to produce inferential estimates of the characteristics of hidden populations for which no sampling frame exists. RDS uses a purposively recruited set of “seeds” who are interviewed and then given vouchers to distribute to members of their social networks who fit the criteria of the population being studied. This is an iterative process where respondents recruited by seeds are themselves given vouchers to distribute which produce long referral chains minimizing selection effects. In the SSRN study, this resulted in the successful recruitment of a core sample of 204 African-American MSM that has been the basis of quantitative analyses and publications.
Analyses of the data from this pilot are ongoing and have been used to develop a much larger implementation of this pilot to study social and sexual networks of young African-American MSM on the Southside of Chicago. Findings from the pilot show that there are important social influences on HIV risk: the attitudes and norms expressed by social network members have a significant influence on respondents’ risk practices. In addition, differences in the composition of personal networks (family, friends, and/or sexual partners) have important consequences for risk.