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Cherry Poppin’: It’s Not Necessarily Fun & Games for Everyone Concerned

By David Alexander Tainan Theological College and Seminary

In Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (New York, Putnam, 1994) Mary Pipher,
a clinical psychiatrist, wrote of the intense pressure upon girls in America to act out sexually when they
were physically, though not yet emotionally, “ready”. That kind of pressure was put into a nutshell by a
man alongside whom I served in the US Army in 1971 after both of us had returned from the war in
Vietnam. He said of girls and women in general, “If they’re old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to
Describing the pressure from the girl’s side, Dr. Pipher offers the story of a ninth-grade girl named
Cayenne, who had been diagnosed with herpes. After several months of therapy relating to the general
problems of adolescence, Cayenne eventually opened up about her sexual initiation, which happened in
the middle of her 8th grade year, by which time she was being teased by her friends for still being a
virgin. During the first hour of an unsupervised party where there were 10 boys and 10 girls, all about
the same age, she had sex with a boy a year older than her. Reflecting on the experience with Dr. Pipher
later, Cayenne said, “I wish it had been more romantic.”1
Middle and upper class American adolescent girls have a luxury not shared by their sisters elsewhere
in the world, who may experience even less romantic sexual initiations.


Futhi (not her real name) is from Makanyane, Swaziland. She was 13 years old when her father began
to rape her. He was HIV positive; his sexual abuse caused her to be infected with the virus. When she
was diagnosed, she told other family members about the rapes. They did not believe her, and eventually
forced her to leave home. She now lives in a halfway house.

“I was 13 when my father raped me. After it happened, I repeated grade six three times. ‘This thing’
that happened to me disturbed me very much. At school I could not concentrate. I am now attending a
craft school where I am learning tailoring.

“I’m HIV positive and I’m afraid. I take 13 pills a day. My family knows I have HIV. I got it from my
father. They still blame me. They don’t see that my HIV is my father’s HIV. They didn’t ask where or
how I acquired it.2


Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, (New York: Putnam, 1994) p.
Amina Isiaka was like any other girl from Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, one of the small Indian
Ocean islands that form the Comoros archipelago. She came from a family of ten children and attended
primary school.

Sitting in front of her family’s small hut, Amina’s mother recounts her daughter’s ordeal. The young
girl had just seen a film outdoors. “When the children were leaving, Amina was called inside a building
by a Koranic teacher who lives in the neighbourhood. He told her that her father was on the phone.”

A neighbour witnessed the girl entering the hut and warned the mother about the incident. Ashamed,
Amina first refused to say what had happened to her that evening. Eventually she confessed she had
been raped by the 45-year-old foundi, as Koranic teachers in the Comoros are known.3

South Africa
The rumor in parts of Africa, including large portions of South Africa, is that having sex with a virgin
will cleanse a male of AIDS. The Johannesburg city council conducted a three-year study of about
28,000 men. They found that 1 in 5 believed in the virgin-AIDS cure. The fallout from that is a rise in
assaults of women and children.

Of particular alarm has been the rise in infant rapes. Not all researchers blame that on the virgin-AIDS
cure myth, but they believe it has contributed to it. The rape of the nine-month-old by six men in
Upington at the end of 2001 enraged many South Africans. That was followed by the discovery of a
seven-month-old who had been raped and left for dead in a suburb of Capetown in November, 2001.

Complicating the problem in South Africa is a revival of an old Zulu system of virginity testing. Tens
of thousands of young people in South Africa are participating in the practice in which an adult
examines a girl for evidence of virginity. Proponents say it promotes and honors abstinence, which
helps cut down on sexual activity, pregnancy, and disease. Opponents say it's like advertising the
virgins to potential perpetrators. The girls who pass the test get white stars on their foreheads and a
certificate of virginity.

The belief in the virgin-AIDS cure is not restricted to Africa. According to a Knight-Ridder report
from Mark McDonald in January of 2000, it is also helping fuel an increase in child prostitution in
Cambodia. McDonald says there are many Asian men who believe that having sex with a virgin will
cleanse their AIDS. The same is true for India and Jamaica. The belief in curing AIDS by having sex
with a virgin is apparently an outgrowth of a long-standing belief in many cultures in the restorative
and healing powers of virgins and having sex with virgins.4

After the overthrow of the government in 1992 women's rights were violated with impunity as the
constitution was suspended by the groups who seized power in Kabul.

Rape by armed guards of the various warring factions was condoned by their leaders; it was viewed as
a way of intimidating vanquished populations, and of rewarding soldiers. Fear of rape drove women to
suicide, and fathers to kill their daughters to spare them the degradation. Scores of women were
abducted and detained, sexually abused, and sold into prostitution. Most girls were victimized and
tortured - because they belonged to different religious and ethnic groups. This in a nutshell is the past
record of the groups that form the Northern Alliance. Their warlords looked upon women as spoils of
war - the very same warlords, who are now strutting around Kabul, with the support of the so-called
civilized Western world under US leadership.5

Fourteen-year-old Fatima had begged the Hazara soldiers not to rape her, saying she was young and a
virgin. One of the soldiers threatened her with his gun, ordering her to undress or be killed. Two
different soldiers raped her, and then three others raped her mother. The mother asked why the soldiers
were doing these things. She was told "You are Talibs and you are Pashtun." Before leaving, the
soldiers beat Fatima's crippled father unconscious, and carried off all of the family's possessions.
"There is nothing left for us; marriage and honor are gone," Fatima's mother told us. 6

Americans in Vietnam
During the Vietnam war, rape was in fact an all too common occurrence, often described by GIs as
SOP--standard operating procedure.7

Public archives include records of an August 1967 atrocity in which a 13-year-old Vietnamese child
was raped by American Military Intelligence interrogator of the Army's 196th Infantry Brigade. The
soldier was convicted only of indecent acts with a child and assault. He served seven months and
sixteen days for his crime.8

Americans in America
Sexual initiation against the will of the one being initiated is not limited to far away places, or even to
women in dangerous situations. On January 13, 2006 Thomas Gumbleton, the auxiliary Roman
Catholic bishop in Detroit, Michigan, declared that he was sexually abused as a teenager by a Catholic
priest while he attended seminary.

The Washington Post, Mar.20, 2002 By Peter Bouckaert and Saman Zia-Zarifi

Dreaming Dreams
Would that all stories of “cherry poppin’” had amusing bits to them, like tapioca pudding and fire ants.
One hopes that all who tell such stories could regale their hearers with tales of their feelings of security,
which were bathed in love and are now surrounded with memories of commitment and care.
Unfortunately, for many, many girls and boys, men and women around the world, that is not the case.