What drives a father to rape his own two-year-old daughter in the belief that it will cure him of HIV? A question, perhaps inconceivable for some, yet warranted. Not only is it a criminal offence to knowingly infect someone with HIV, but to do so in the belief that it will cure the infected party of the virus is a dangerous and seemingly unexplored myth.

Although nominated for a GLAD, for protecting the identity of the raped child, The Star’s article, headlined “Child raped to ‘cure’ HIV+ dad” (25/04/2013, p. 6), creates the expectation, but misses the opportunity to explore the perplexing myth that consensual sex with, or rape of a virgin, a child or an HIV negative person will cure one of HIV.

Upon reading the article in question, some lingering questions left unanswered, are:

Where does this damaging myth originate from?
How is this belief understood and explained by those who believe it?
Who perpetuates the myth?
What is being done to unpack the belief so that it can be dispelled?

For the most part, the article recaps the sequence of events and facts surrounding the rape, allegedly committed by the girl’s father, and highlights the mother’s frustration regarding the handling of the criminal case by the police; valid and newsworthy components of the story.

Unfortunately, concerns relating to the ‘HIV curing’ myth are merely mentioned at the very end of the article with quotes that, although sourced from respected and authoritative sources, risk being interpreted as dismissive of the complexity of the problem.

One of the quotes appropriately highlights the need for more education to dispel the myth that “raping children or having sex with a virgin was a cure for HIV/Aids.” Subsequent quotes stress that the myth is “ridiculous” and “ludicrous,” which, although factually-backed statements, create a distancing effect and could be understood as dismissing the very real belief held by those desperate to cure themselves of HIV/Aids.

It is important to emphasise, however, that the quotes cannot be analysed and should not be critiqued in isolation, as it is the newspaper that makes the final decision on how to publish the quotes within the article. Essentially, it is the choices made by the newspaper that can either contextualise or de-contextualise the quotes, rendering them, in this case as potentially dismissive.

Embedded in an article that goes further to contextualise and dismantle the myth, the quotes would have a more profound and educational impact. Warranted the above article perhaps didn’t allow for such analysis, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would like to encourage the newspaper to publish a follow-up story, exploring the myth in greater depth and detail.

The public, especially those misled about the myth, need to be informed and educated about its fallacy, and the media holds great ability to do so, with its pervasive power to inform and inspire dialogue.

Despite the missed opportunity, it is crucial to emphasise again that the identity of rape victims, especially children, should be protected in media reporting. For this reason, MMA commends The Star for their ethical reporting.