Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock | My heart bleeds for Haiti’s rape victims

Published:Monday | June 10, 2019 | 12:17 AMShawna Kay Williams-Pinnock/Contributor

At only six years old, Ruth Auguste, a Haitian-Canadian woman, was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, Jean Pressoir Marol. In her 2012 memoir, The Children of Injustice: One Haitian Canadian Woman’s Memoir of Healing, she details this ordeal.

In chapter three, she writes: “He ripped apart my new pink sundress and the beautiful yellow-flowered underpants beneath it. Then Pressoir climbed on top of me and raped me … He untied my hands, but that didn’t mean anything to me, for all I could do was lie there, terrified, unable to move a muscle.”

At the time of this horrid happening, Auguste was living in Haiti with Pressoir and her teenage mother, Marie Micheline Danticat.

Pressoir was a member of the Tonton Macoutes, a paramilitary group that Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, a former Haitian president, allegedly appointed to coerce citizens into submitting to his regime.

According to Auguste, after Pressoir raped her, he then threatened to shoot her if she ever reported the abuse to her mother or adopted grandparents. Pressoir then battered her mother, thus further intimidating young Auguste into silence.

Powerless and defenceless, Auguste stifled her pain and grief. The breadwinner was not to be defied, or worse, angered.

After many disappointing court rulings, however, Auguste and her mother were finally freed from Pressoir’s control.

“He was put under a restraining order … We had happiness ahead of us that day, if only temporarily,” she pens.

Such happiness was, indeed, temporary, though Pressoir later died while hospitalised.

During those years, the 1950s to 1980s, Haiti was rife with political unrest and uncertainty. Competing leaders repeatedly ousted each other, and as always, violence prefigured every overthrow. As such, gunshots and blood-curdling screams often shattered the night’s silence. Charred human remains regularly strewed the streets. Also, many properties, including churches, were usually ransacked and ruined in the wake of opposing political gangs.

Although many people escaped the turmoil unscathed, Auguste’s mother was not so fortunate. While on duty as a community nurse, she was hit by a stray bullet that was fired during a military face-off. Seared by the bullet’s blow, Marie Micheline clutched her chest, collapsed and died. Sadly, her despaired life was never fully redeemed.

INCREASING RAPE CASES

Today, the grim, grave clouds of grief that long overhung Marie Micheline’s and Auguste’s lives have not disappeared. More and more Haitian women are suffering at the hands of men like Pressoir.

According to a recent Gleaner publication, the National Police of Haiti has reported that “at least 15 underage girls were raped over a two-month period that ended on Tuesday.” However, activists believe that approximately 10 rapes are committed every day in Haiti. How appalling!

These reports confirm an alarming statement that Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American author and a relative of Auguste, made some years ago. In the foreword of Auguste’s memoir, Danticat remarks that “ It is commonly said that one out of three women in Haiti has been raped. Even before the January 10, 2011 earthquake, rape was a serious problem in the lives of Haitian women and girls.”

Such nightmarish ravaging of females is also chronicled in Danticat’s own narrative, Breath, Eyes, Memory – a core literature text used for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate English B.

In this novel, Danticat poignantly captures the agony one Haitian woman suffers after she is raped. Although this woman is a fictional character, her pain, no doubt, reflects that of many other Haitian women who are violated and traumatised by rapists daily.

Truly, my heart bleeds for all these women. Their pain is, undoubtedly, immense and immeasurable.

I pray they’ll be strengthened to cope. I pray, too, that those marauding monsters that have hurt and scarred them will very soon feel the brutal brunt of justice. Certainly, their cruelty must be atoned in the courts!

My sisters, I leave you with these words from Auguste, who, as earlier mentioned, was raped and sullied at a most tender age.

She says, “Don’t give up…We all know that what happened to you was not right and not fair…Take action to help heal the crimes that were committed against you. The first step is to talk about it.”

Hold on, sisters. One day, you will reclaim your peace, and justice will be duly served.

 

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock is an educator. Email feedback to Shawna201@gmail.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.