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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 17:48 GMT
South African rape victims fight HIV
Charlene Smith, SA flag Charlene Smith campaigns on behalf of rape victims in South Africa

By Clive Myrie in Johannesburg

Earlier this year Charlene Smith was put through an ordeal difficult for anyone to comprehend.

She was raped at knifepoint in her own home. She took me through the events of that fateful day, 1 April: "I returned home after a business meeting at around 8.30pm.

"The dogs on the porch seemed all right and there was no suggestion anything was wrong."

I not only had to cope with the rape - with the violation of my body - but also with the possibility that the man had infected me with HIV
Charlene Smith
"I unlocked the door and walked in to find all the lights on and a leather jacket that's usually hanging in the wardrobe on the floor of the living room.

" I still didn't think there was anything wrong. I just assumed my son was home. But when I checked his room he wasn't there.

"I then went to the bathroom. I flushed the toilet and turned around to find a man standing in the doorway holding a knife.

"I screamed and he told me to be quiet. He used masking tape to tie me up, my hands and legs, then he raped me."

50,000 rapes a year

Charlene Smith now campaigns on behalf of women who have been raped - many of whom now carry the virus which causes Aids:

"I not only had to cope with the rape - with the violation of my body - but also with the possibility that the man had infected me with HIV.

"He told me he would use a condom - he didn't."

Ms Smith herself must still wait for several months before she knows for certain whether she has become infected.

Official figures suggest every year around 50,000 women are raped in South Africa.

But some pressure groups believe the real number is much higher, because most attacks go unreported.

And with every rape, the risk of HIV infection increases.

Scientists like Professor Barry Shoub of the National Institute of Biology are now looking closely at the strain of the virus, sub-type C, which is most prevalent in South Africa.

He hopes to find out whether it is more aggressive than other forms of HIV and can be passed on more easily: "We need to characterise it, trying to work out the correlates of immunity - in other words, what factors in the host will protect against HIV in specific reference to sub-type C - and then ultimately to find a vaccine."

To the person I raped...I'm asking for forgiveness
Bengali waka Bhaya, rapist
Recently South Africa declared a special day to promote non-violence against women.

Scores of convicted rapists gathered at the Zonderwater maximum security prison north-west of Johannesburg, to apologise to some of their victims and their families.

Saying sorry isn't enough

Convicted rapist Bengali waka Bhaya addressed a group of women who had been raped, saying what he had done was "ugly".

"To the person I raped", he said, "I'm asking for forgiveness."

For a rapist - albeit a remorseful one - foregiveness may be an impossible thing to ask a woman who has been infected with HIV.

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See also:
28 Oct 99 |  Africa
Mbeki questions SA rape figures
09 Aug 99 |  Africa
Mbeki urges better deal for women
22 Oct 99 |  Africa
South African rape advert gets go-ahead
04 Oct 99 |  Africa
Africa on the Aids frontline
13 Oct 99 |  Africa
Fighting back against rape

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