Explanations for child sexual abuse given by convicted offenders in Malawi: no evidence for "HIV cleansing"

Charles Mtibo, Neil Kennedy, Eric Umar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: A commonly cited, but unproven reason given for the rise in reported cases of child sexual abuse in Sub-Saharan Africa is the "HIV cleansing myth"-the belief that an HIV infected individual can be cured by having sex with a child virgin. The purpose of this study was to explore in Malawi the reasons given by convicted sex offenders for child sexual abuse and to determine if a desire to cure HIV infection motivated their offence.

METHODS: Offenders convicted of sexual crimes against victims under the age of 18 were interviewed in confidence in Malawi's two largest prisons. During the interview the circumstances of the crime were explored and the offenders were asked what had influenced them to commit it. Each participant was asked the closed question "Did you think that having sex with your victim would cure or cleanse you from HIV?"

RESULTS: 58 offenders agreed to participate. The median (range) age of offenders and victims was 30 (16-66) years and 14 (2-17) years, respectively. Twenty one respondents (36.2%) denied that an offence had occurred. Twenty seven (46.6%) admitted that they were motivated by a desire to satisfy their sexual desires. Six (10.3%) stated they committed the crime only because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. None of the participants said that a desire to cure or avoid HIV infection motivated the abuse.

CONCLUSION: This study suggests that offenders convicted of a sexual crime against children in Malawi were not motivated by a desire to be cured or "cleansed" from HIV infection. A need to fulfil their sexual urges or the disinhibiting effect of drugs or alcohol was offered by the majority of participants as excuses for their behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-6
Number of pages5
JournalChild abuse & neglect
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual
  • Child, Preschool
  • HIV Infections
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Prisoners
  • Rationalization
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'Explanations for child sexual abuse given by convicted offenders in Malawi: no evidence for "HIV cleansing"'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this