*These stories do not necessarily reflect Papillon’s artisans but are a reflection of a very present national epidemic in Haiti. Names have been omitted for their protection.
He reflects on his past and the moments in his life worth remembering, the moments that stand out in his mind, the memories he has shared with the people he loves. He reminisces on his days in school, the way he often got in trouble for pulling pranks on his classmates, and he shows me the scar on his hand from the time his mom disciplined him with a hot spoon when he snuck a taste of rice from the pot before it was done. He shares of the people who took care of him, the adults who hold a significant place in his heart for the way they never allowed him to go hungry, even if they struggled to find two gourdes to rub together. And he speaks of his mother, with the utmost adoration and respect, who he lost when he was just a young boy, an event that forever changed his life.
He dwells on these pieces of his story, a compilation of memories filled with heartache and joy, loss and victory, pain and growth, the pieces that have made him who he is today. But there is an aspect of his story that catches me off guard. He was sexually assaulted by an older woman when he was just five years old. The words leave his mouth so nonchalantly, but I can’t seem to erase the image from my mind. To him, it was justified, but there is certainly nothing justifiable about it.
She shares with me the details of her abuse and reveals to me the marks on her body to prove it. She had married him out of obligation, the father of her children, but he can hardly even uphold the title of “husband.” She works, tirelessly, to provide for her family while he, much to her dismay, spends his money, her money, on anything but their family – gambling, alcohol, women. She hurts, searching for an escape, but who will help her? She has sought justice but because of her martial status, he technically doesn’t have to be held responsible to the law for his actions.
Her face is tired from the years of persevering with little progress. She is discouraged, wanting an out but knowing the reality of her situation and how hard it is in a country failing to hear her voice, neglecting to see her needs. She never imagined all of those years ago when she married him that this would have been her outcome. She clings to the hope of her future, however grim it may seem.
There is no gender, no age, no culture exempt from the darkness of abuse. But to be in a country in which protection is limited is a whole new feat to conquer. Adults abused as children will grow up believing what they faced and what they endured was okay. They grow up with deep unresolved trauma because mental and emotional health needs are rarely addressed in a place where the majority of the population struggles to survive.
Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, alongside fellow partners, opened a clinic in 2015 in Port-au-Prince to treat victims of sexual violence. Recently, in an article published by the organization, MSF revealed, “eighty-three percent of all patients are rape survivors, and 83 percent of these patients in turn are younger than 25.” But funding is limited and services are scarce for survivors. The article further explains that of those needing social support, “forty-nine percent of these need protection (including safe shelter and child protection services), and 28 percent are referred for legal assistance to press charges against perpetrators.”
The fight against sexual violence is difficult. Victims are often oppressed, and even worse, made to believe the lie that it is acceptable. Awareness is vital. To first recognize the gravity of abuse in Haiti is critical in order to make a change. Survivors need to be heard and validated, and given the proper resources to getting help. Sexual abuse, unfortunately, is expected in the Haitian culture. There is no easy answer, there is no perfect solution. But through empowerment emerges strength, one step closer to justice. And it is when those victims can be given a voice they will find freedom through redemption.