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Slaying of 3 deaf women in Haiti highlights vulnerability

Published:Tuesday | April 26, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Residents praying during a Mass for deaf residents at a church in Leveque, a community where a group of deaf people relocated after the 2010 earthquake, in Cabaret, Haiti.
Micheler Castor, who is deaf, holding a picture of him with his wife Jesula Gelin, who’s also deaf, with their children at his home in Leveque, a community where a group of deaf people relocated after the 2010 earthquake in Cabaret, Haiti. Castor’s wife was beaten, stabbed and burned to death, along with two of her deaf friends, as they walked home from the capital to their village.


The three friends had spent the day stocking up on food in the Haitian capital when they left for their village, setting off on the 20-mile trip home by foot because the minibuses known as tap-taps weren't running after a bridge collapse.

Their bodies were found the next morning in a ditch along the way. They had been beaten, stabbed and burned, and relatives who identified them in a morgue said their tongues were cut out in an apparent act of ritualistic savagery.

The women's family and friends suspect they were targeted because they were deaf in a country where experts said a pervasive stigma isolates people with disabilities such as deafness and can spark superstitions leading to horrific cruelty. Disabled women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

Due to cultural prejudices and the weakness of the justice system, past crimes against disabled citizens have been largely ignored. But the slayings of Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent have galvanized Haitians with disabilities and prompted rare public protests by their advocacy groups.

Outrage is particularly acute in the village of Leveque, where the women lived in a community of 168 homes established by US religious organizations for deaf people displaced by the 2010 earthquake. Gelin's husband, Micheler Castor, now struggles there to raise their six children alone.

"I can't understand it," Castor, also deaf, said in sign language of his 29-year-old wife's killing. "She served the Lord and was a good wife and mother."