At the end of the slide show Pep Bonet alludes to "the Virgin Rape Myth", the belief that men think if they sleep with a virgin they will cure themselves of AIDS, and implies that this is a reason for the high levels of child rape in this context. Over the past few years this myth has been all over the media. However, when examining the facts surrounding child rape cases in South Africa, this myth as an explanation for the high numbers of child rapes or HIV infections in children, does not make sense. Levels of child rape in South Africa have always been extremely high, even before the AIDS pandemic.
In South Africa in 90% of rape cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim; a family member, a neighbor, a teacher, the taxi driver, a mother's boyfriend...It is very rarely, if at all, a random person sick with AIDS that comes out of nowhere and rapes the child. Children's Red Cross Hospital, near Cape Town, has treated thousands of child rape victims over the years. According to the Head of the Trauma Unit there, they have not treated a single case in which the alleged perpetrator said they raped the child to cure themselves of AIDS. Most of the perpetrators were not even aware of their HIV status.
Rape in South Africa is a critical problem that needs to be addressed. It is problematic when the myth of "The Virgin Rape Myth" is inaccurately identified as the main cause of the high levels of child rape. It is more likely that "The Virgin Rape Myth" has been created as a result of people's outrage at the number of child rapes and an attempt to justify why men would do something so atrocious. The media has further sensationalized this.
It is imperative to examine the real underlying causes of why there is so much child rape. Perpetrators in South Africa have explained why they rape in terms of their own experience of abuse, feelings of demasculinization, inadequacy and marginalization. We should explore these true explanations in order to address this problem rather than perpetuating unlikely explanations such as the Virgin Rape Myth, which have no factual basis.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, there are many factors that ought to be discussed when focusing on rape in South Africa and perhaps the media's coverage of this issue has overlooked the underlying causes of child rape. However, Pep Bonet's photo reportage has a different purpose: to educate the public about the ARV treatments in six Sub-Saharan African countries, the stigmatization still present in these communities, and the process of documenting a global issue in a different, less sensationalistic way. Had his primary focus been child rape in South Africa, he would have listed some of the same factors that you've come across in your on-the-ground research. Sadly, the virgin rape myth does exist, not only in South Africa, but in countries like India and Thailand. The pervasive belief of the "virgin cure" dates back to 16th century Europe where a widespread belief existed that sexual intercourse with a virgin was a cure for syphilis, gonnorhea, and other STD's. Thanks again for taking the time to write to us about this issue and share here with other readers.
Mimi Chakarova, FlashPoint Curator
Outstanding work which can remind us to participate and engage in the true world in which we live. Your photographs are an inspriation which I see as capturing the heart and soul of life and bringing it to the surface. I suggest that your explanation of not researching an area allows you to arrive and follow the emotion of a location with your camera. Thank you for your work and for sharing it.
Amazing photographs. They feel like paintings, like you can enter into them. Odd and lovely.