Child rape survivor saves ‘virgin myth’ victims
Hope was 14 years old when her uncle raped her.
Betty Makoni founded the Girl Child Network to help Zimbabwe’s young sexual abuse victims.
“He trapped me to the ground and covered my mouth with his hand,” said the 18-year-old from Zimbabwe. “He threatened to kill me if I ever told anybody.”
So, she kept quiet.
“After a while people around the villages started saying that I looked pregnant,” she said.
Hope was not only pregnant, but her uncle had infected her with HIV.
Like many young girls in Zimbabwe, Hope was the victim of a widely held belief that if a man with HIV or AIDS rapes a virgin he will be cured of his disease. This so-called virgin myth, perpetuated by Zimbabwe’s traditional healers, has led to the rape of hundreds of girls, according to UNICEF. Some of those victims are too young to walk, much less protect themselves.
Betty Makoni has fought for nearly a decade to protect her country’s young girls from sexual abuse. And she’s witnessed some of the worst cases of the myth in action.
“The youngest girl I ever came across was a day-old baby who was raped,” said Makoni, 37.
Through her Girl Child Network (GCN), Makoni has helped rescue 35,000 girls from abuse — including Hope; thousands more have found an empowering community and a public forum in which to speak out.
“Ten girls per day report rape cases,” she said. “It means if we keep quiet, at least 3,600 girls per year may just be contracting HIV and AIDS.”
Makoni’s own tragic experiences fuel her fierce determination.