HARARE, Zimbabwe – Prosecutors in Zimbabwe said Thursday they have dropped charges against three women accused of raping men to collect their semen for tribal rituals after DNA tests failed to link them to 17 men who claimed they were victims.
Prosecutors said Thursday that DNA evidence cleared the women, who will now face prostitution charges.
The women, aged in their 20s, and a male companion were arrested in November on charges of "aggravated indecent assault" amid allegations they lured men into a car and forced them to have sex at gunpoint, knifepoint or using drugged drinks to collect semen for tribal rituals. Police said 31 condoms containing semen were found in the car.
In a case that has fascinated the nation, the women denied the allegations, saying they had sex for money and didn't throw out the condoms.
Prostitution is rife in Zimbabwe after years of economic meltdown and soaring unemployment.
Sophie, 26, and Netsai Nhokwara, 24, who are sisters, and Rosemary Chakwizira, 28, had faced lengthy prison sentences on the charges of aggravated sexual assault, equivalent to the penalty for rape committed by men.
Soliciting and prostitution charges carry a small fine.
According to court papers, 17 men stepped forward with claims they were victims of women said to be in a syndicate preying on men flagging down cars or minibuses for lifts along the nation's highways since 2010. One said he was sprayed with and forced to drink a pungent liquid.
Local media reports have suggested some men alleging they were abducted and sexually assaulted used it as an excuse for spending nights away from home with prostitutes.
The arrests of the three women in the provincial city of Gweru after their car was involved in an accident fueled intense rumors that a syndicate was collecting semen for rituals. There is a local belief that the semen is more powerful if obtained through sexual coercion, and that it is not so potent if gathered voluntarily.