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April 2002



HIV/AIDS, the stats, the virgin cure and infant rape

Mike Earl-Taylor

Nearly 60 children are raped every day in South Africa and while experts agree to disagree as to the causes, or whether the pervasive belief in the so-called "Virgin Cure" prevents/cures HIV/Aids is possibly responsible for this deeply disturbing phenomenon, university researcher, Mike Earl-Taylor suggests it could well be a contributing factor, and a major one at that. Moreover, infant rape appears to be unique to South Africa, however, the Virgin Cure is not. 

For an alternative opinion on this issue  enter here

The Figures

At the close of 2001, an estimated 40 million people worldwide -37.2 million adults and 2.7 million children younger than 15 years -were living with HIV/Aids, and more than 70 percent of these people [28.1 million] live in sub-Saharan Africa; another 15 percent [6.1 million] live in South and Southeast Asia. [1]. South Africa, a country with the highest incidence of rape and child rape in the world, has 19.94, or approximately one in nine of its 41 million population infected with HIV/Aids, as opposed to one in five for Botswana [35.8 percent], and 25.25 and 25.06 for Swaziland and Zimbabwe, respectively[2]. 

Currently, there are estimated to be from 4.2 to 4.7 million individuals affected by the pandemic in South Africa and these figures are projected to rise to well in excess of 6 million by the year 2010[3]. With an average of five children raped every hour of every day, of every week, of every year, the projected estimate may well be conservative. 

Between 1500 to 1700 new HIV/Aids infections occur daily in South Africa, or nearly one seventh of the 14000 new infections worldwide. This figure amounts to an estimated 5 million new infections globally in 2001; more than 95 percent of these new infections occurred in developing countries and HIV/Aids-associated illnesses caused the deaths of 3 million people worldwide, including an estimated 580,000 children younger than 15 years[4].

21,000 child rapes, and some 37,000 adult rapes, were reported in South Africa last year. According to the South African Police Service, only one in 35 are actually reported. The actual incidence of rape could well be in excess of a million per year. It can only be speculated and extrapolated then that the actual incidence of child/infant rape has reached alarming and phenomenal proportions that should signal urgent intervention from the highest levels of government, and society-at-large.

To what extent is the HIV/Aids myth responsible for actions against children? 

In the first instance, we must examine the culturally-specific belief system, which is not confined to South Africa as is popularly conceived, nor to the African continent as a whole, but is found to exist in most other developing countries with large numbers of HIV/Aids positive people in their populations.


India, with an estimated 3 million plus HIV/Aids sufferers, along with Thailand, both largely patriarchal societies, also has entrenched the so-called Virgin Cure within its belief systems.

The myth of the Virgin Cure has a rich and culturally diverse history stretching back to 16th century Europe, and more prominently to be found in 19th century Victorian England, where, in spite of the emphasis on morality, rectitude and family values, there existed a widespread belief, that sexual intercourse with a virgin was a cure for syphilis, gonnorhea, [and other STD's]. Syphilis, like HIV/Aids, was fatal in its terminal stages. In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, when a significant outbreak of STD's was spread by troops returning home from overseas after WWII, the Virgin Cure was widely sought among the population.

Encompassed in the current belief system of both prevention/cure of HIV/Aids is the notion that an intact hymen, and the smaller amount of vaginal secretions in young girls, prevents transmission of the disease through sexual intercourse. As previously posited, experts agree to disagree on the root causes of the shocking incidence of child rape, but all are fairly certain, that it does not meet the clinical diagnostic criteria for the paraphilia [deviant psychosexual disorder] of paedophilia.


Paedophilia as a mental disorder, or a disorder of psychosexual orientation is normally, but not exclusively, found in males, and is indicative of a long standing sexual interest/activities in and with pre-pubertal children of both genders, but predominately girls, from age ranges 13 down to the main victim target area of between 11 and 8. The age range of the child rape victim is significantly found to be 6 or younger. By its very definition, paedophiles do not target infants for sexual abuse. Infants are however well known to be sexually molested, rather than raped, within the familial context, with the father/stepfather the usual perpetrator.

To test the hypothesis further, one could argue that therefore South Africa must have an unusually high number of paedophiles in its population given the incidence of sexual violence against children. I suggest this is not the case as paedophilic activities are generally premeditated, involve pressure, coercion and bribes to engage in sexual activities, but rarely, except in the case of mysopeds [child killers/rapists], do they involve forcible rape. Important too, one must bear in mind, that the vast majority of child sexual abuse cases occur within the family, and, as stated, the most common form of sexual abuse, and the most damaging to the child, is father to daughter incest. 

Comparing the facts

To further my argument I recently compared and contrasted two high-profile cases of infant rape and found some common salient characteristics which I have little doubt would be augumented by further investigation and research. Both cases were widely reported in the media and infant rape consists of the following variables [5]. See the text box to the right.

From both criminological, psychological and sociological perspectives, there exists an urgent need for comprehensive and sustained research into the incidence of child/infant rape and its underlying causes, as well as that of its perpetrators alongside the effective implementation of both strategies and deterrents in order to protect our most vulnerable members of society - our children. 

HIV/AIDS to blame?

In a recent Daily Dispatch, Graeme Pitcher, paediatric surgeon at the Department of Paediatric Surgery at Johannesburg Hospital and the University of the Witswatersrand, who has studied 13 infant rapes that have occurred nationally, said it was a growing phenomenon. According to Dr Pitcher it was important to distinguish between child and infant rape: "Child rape of children from five years and over occurs all over the world but the rape of infant girls occurs only here." Pitcher and his colleague, Dr Douglas Bowley, postulate some of the possible reasons are that South Africa is strife-torn with major socio-economic problems as well as the myth that sex with virgins can rid men of HIV/Aids and other sexually-transmitted diseases. "The motives as to why people rape infants also do not conform to the traditional motives as to why people [commit] rape. Infant rape does not have the power and sexual motive." [6]. Based on the balance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt, my own views concur fully, with those of Doctors Pitcher and Bowley.

More Information

American citizen Mike Earl-Taylor has lived and worked in South Africa for the past decade. A former social worker, and later crime journalist, he obtained BSc and BA degrees in Social Sciences from the University of Oregon and an MA from Oregon State University. He is employed as a Research and Development Officer at Rhodes University and serves as the Chairperson of the Grahamstown-based Raphael HIV/Aids Counselling and Support Centre as well as serving on the Committee of Grahamstown Child and Family Welfare. His areas of interest are in Forensic Psychology and the psychopathology of violent criminal behaviour in children, adolescents and adult offenders.


1] HIV Management Solutions: Statistics [online]
2]HIV/Aids Statistics: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fact Sheet.
3] Ibid
4] Ibid
5] Earl-Taylor, Mike: The Phenomenon of Infant Rape in South Africa, MTN Centre for Crime Prevention, Department of Psychology, Rhodes University. [unpublished paper].
6] Daily Dispatch, January 25, 2002, Rape: Teachers Biggest Threat, [author uncited].

For MRC News release on the subject of the 'virgin myth' and child rape in South Africa, enter here

Common salient characteristics in two cases of infant rape:

* The victim is a female infant in the age range five to 18 months, or up to two years, [toddler stage].

* The offenders are male ranging in age from adolescence, middle to old age [50 years, or older].

* The offence is situation specific, infant available and unprotected, moreover, the offence is impulsive, opportunistic, and does not, prima facie, appear to contain elements of premeditation.

* There are single and multiple offenders involved in infant rape, the most highly publicised cases [initially] involved two or more offenders.

* The offence is situated firmly outside the generally, and clinically accepted diagnostic criteria of paedophilia as defined in the Diagnostic Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM IV].

* The offence is one-off, eg. not serial or repeat as is normally found in paedophilic crimes against older children.

* The offence, by its very nature, causes severe and life threatening injuries to the child.

* The offences, or what is known of them are intra-racial rather than inter-racial, as is common with most incidence of adult rapes.

* The offenders in both cases were known to the child's mother.

* Alcohol and/or substance abuse was involved in both cases, further, in both cases the mothers were under the influence or had consumed significant quantities of alcohol.

* The mother's ages ranged from the late teens to early 20s.

* They [ the mothers] were both single, uneducated and unemployed.

* The offenders were uneducated or unemployed, and share along with the mothers of the infants, appalling and degrading socioeconomic circumstances.

* The offenders had consumed significant quantities of alcohol.

* Both mothers had left their infants to obtain or purchase more alcohol.

* Both rapes occurred during the mothers absence.

* Offenders were members of ethnic group[s] where the pervasive myth in the so-called Virgin Cure as a prevention/cure for HIV/Aids is relatively well entrenched within the cultural belief system.

* Offender's personal histories will probably include abuse, either sexual, physical or both, characterised by abusive and violent behaviour to others, as well lacking as any semblance of sophistication, pathologically devoid of empathy for others.

* Clinical assessment of offenders would likely reveal other personality disorders, such as Antisocial Personality Disorders [ASPD], or, in the case of adolescents, Conduct Disorders - or other evidence of psychopathology.

* Offenders in both cases, no matter how intoxicated, or unsophisticated, would be able to appreciate the dreadful wrongfulness of their actions against a tiny and totally defenceless baby girl.

* Both rapes occurred in the mothers place of residence.

* And finally, it is exceedingly difficult to envisage circumstances that do not amount to serious criminal negligence on the part of the mothers of the raped infants, who were nine and five months-old respectively[5].



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