In Haiti, naked boys are a common sight, because the heat is so oppressive. But even in the sweltering slum of Cite Soleil, the genitals of girls are covered. The practice, it is said, honors the "birth part" of females as the "pathway of life." Such respect kept rape in Haiti to a minimum.
But that's all changed. Since September, 1991, when the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in a military coup, the incidence of rape, of women and girls, has jumped alarmingly. These rapes have a specific purpose: political repression.
I've just returned from Haiti. With the assistance of an anthropologist who has worked in Haiti for 10 years on women's reproductive health, I was able to enter certain neighborhoods and secretly videotape the testimonies of women who had been raped. They were all assaulted by either members of the military, the police or the newly formed anti-democratic party known as FRAPH (in Haitian Creole, "to hit"). Guns, clubs and machetes were used to intimidate them. Many were repeatedly told they were being raped because they or their male partners participated in pro-democracy activities.
The women who spoke to us took an enormous risk. They knew we could not help them leave Haiti. They understood they would not be paid for their statements. These women, whose emotions ranged from terror to anger to a kind of catatonic detachment, just wanted the truth to get out.
Because of the constant presence of FRAPH members in the neighborhoods, I disguised myself as a health-care worker. I hid my camcorder in a bag. While the interviews were being conducted in the darkest corners at the back of shacks, other women guarded the doors. When FRAPH members appeared, the women would sing, signaling us to turn the camera light out and be quiet. As soon as it was safe, we continued.
The following are three accounts:
* Jacqueline's husband was a pro-democracy activist who refused to remove Aristide's poster from his wall after the coup. The military was soon onto him. He went into hiding. Jacqueline was living with her aunt when seven members of the military broke into their tin-and-cardboard shack. They accused her of concealing her husband's whereabouts, of voting for Aristide and of being a member of the resistance.
She was raped successively by the seven men. The incident produced a son, who appeared quite ill. The soldiers said they would return. Today, she is on the run.
* Rene was a vendor for a pro-democracy newspaper. When members of the military came to his house, they beat him and raped his wife, Carmen. When their baby boy started to cry, one of the soldiers hit him with the butt of his rifle. The family has since moved to another neighborhood, where Rene is again circulating the newspaper and Carmen is organizing pro-Aristide women.
* Celene was active in a women's merchant cooperative, considered by the military to be a political organization simply because the women want to improve their lot. She also belongs to a grass-roots group seeking the return of democracy. Last February, armed FRAPH members broke into their complex. She was tied up and forced to watch them rape her 12-year-old child. Then they burned the co-op's house.
Tonight in Port-au-Prince, the impostors in power will sit down to an eight-course dinner and laugh at that supposedly new, tighter sanctions. They will continue to make millions as drug and embargo barons. U.S. politicians will continue to set their moral compasses according to poll results on immigration. And in Cite Soleil, a hungry and terrified Jacqueline will be moving in the shadows, her sick son in her arms, stopping at each shack hoping someone will hide her for another night.*