Misconceptions about sexual violence common among South African youth

October 21, 2004

Misconceptions about sexual violence and the risk of HIV infection and AIDS are common among South African youth, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers surveyed over 269,000 South African school pupils aged 10-19 years about their views on and experiences of sexual violence.

Misconceptions about sexual violence were common among both sexes, but more females held views that would put them at high risk of HIV infection.

Around 11% of males and 4% of females claimed to have forced someone else to have sex. Most of these had themselves been forced to have sex, suggesting that a history of forced sex distorted perceptions about sexual violence and risk of HIV infection.

One in three youth believed they could be HIV positive. One in four of these had not even had sex, an indicator of ignorance of the mechanism of HIV infection, say the authors. This failure of education comes at an important cost: youth who believed they were HIV positive had misconceptions similar to those who had forced someone else to have sex.

The views of South African youth on sexual violence and on the risk of HIV infection and AIDS were compatible with acceptance of sexual coercion and "adaptive" attitudes to survival in a violent society, conclude the authors.
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BMJ

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