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1 in 10 South African Lesbians Are HIV-Positive

By David Artavia

A whopping 10% of lesbians in South African are HIV-positive and the likely cause for the rising number of infections is rape, a recent study suggests. The study, Forced Sexual Experiences as Risk Factor for Self-Reported HIV Infection among Southern African Lesbian and Bisexual Women, was conducted in collaboration with community-based organizations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe and appeared in PloS One, an open-access peer reviewed journal supported by the National Institute of Health.

In South Africa, more women are sexually assaulted than almost anywhere in the world, lesbians being the most targeted for "corrective rape," whereby a rapist believes his assault will cure her of homosexuality. More often than not, authorities and doctors will give a cold-shouldered response to allegations, which is why most women don't seek out testing or treatment for HIV.

BuzzFeed reported one woman who was speaking about health care workers, saying, "They said lesbians deserve this... I won't go back." The woman reported that a health care worker told her, "Lesbians are from the devil. God did not make women for this. [You] are not acting like women."

More than 54,000 cases or rape are reported to the police each year in South Africa, and studies have shown that one in three women are survivors of "forced sex," and it's these women who were more likely to be HIV-positive.

The recent AIDS death of Nomawabo Mahlungula, a member of the local lesbian grassroots organization Free Gender, is now raising important questions among South African lesbians. It's been an unspoken issue that is seldom discussed within the community, and many feel that a more open approach might be the perfect solution.

"They don't talk about it. They hide it from their friends," Ntsupe Mohapi, head of the the LGBT organization EPOC, told BuzzFeed. "It's hard to practice safe sex... if you do something behind close doors."

The rising discussion is causing some rifts within the community. Some South African lesbians have gone so far as to say that bisexual women are making them a target for rape, since it confirms to some men that although they might be a lesbian, they can still be turned on by straight sex. Most of them admit, however, that the real issue is denial.

Ironically, lthough South Africa has some of the world's most extensive legal protections for LGBT people, lesbian and bisxual women are still victims of it's homophobic and sexist culture.

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