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Selam Tesfaye, Ethiopia, 'My own father gave me HIV'

Selam Tesfaye* was born and raised in Mekele, northern Ethiopia. At the age of 13 she was raped by her father, who also infected her with HIV. This is her story.

"When my parents divorced I was very little and I had to stay with my mother and my two sisters. We were living a good life until my mother died and we had to move to our aunt's house. My father then came to my aunt and said we should all move back with him. That was when my life turned upside down.

"One night I had a stomach-ache and went to my father for help. He gave me an injection, saying that it would relive the pain. Shortly afterwards I felt dizzy and become unconscious. The next day I woke up very sick and when I tried to go to the bathroom to urinate I discovered that I had been raped.

"My father also openly admitted that he raped me. I ran away from home and went back to my aunt, but I was too shy and ashamed to tell her what my father had done to me. She said I should go back to my father because she was worried that he would accuse her of abduction.

"I was forced to go back to my father's house, and later found out that my older sister has been continuously raped by my father and had even aborted three times.

"That was when I decided to break this cycle of abuse in our family and spoke boldly to the police about what my father did. He was put in prison for a brief period and released on bail.

"After he was released, news of his HIV status reached me, but I could not confirm the story as I had moved in with my aunt again. I was not aware of my own HIV status until I had a disagreement with my cousin and she said that I had AIDS. I was devastated, because even if I was aware that my father had the virus, I did not know that he had given it to me.

"After I confirmed I had the virus, I isolated myself from the family and friends. My aunt gave me a separate plate to use for food; nobody even touched the food I ate or the clothes I wore for fear of the virus. My aunt accused me of promiscuity, as if I slept around to get the disease.

"The conflict at home worsened when I went on national television and told my story about the virus, to teach young people. My aunt became violent because I had not consulted her about my decision in advance; I left her house and started living alone.

"Currently, an NGO that is helping people with HIV is providing me with financial and emotional support. I am now at peace with myself and with the virus; I have come into contact with male and female friends who are kind and supportive."

*not her real name


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