The day before Hurricane Tomas was scheduled to make landfall in Haiti, I received a visit from three of my girls. They told me they were scared because of the hurricane. I tried to reassure them that everything would be okay, and also informed them that (at the time) the hurricane had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm. As soon as our discussion about the hurricane ended, out of the blue, one of them said, “Papa’m bat mwen.” My father beats me. Her revelation took me by surprise. When I asked her why, she explained that sometimes if she’s not at home when he shows up, he slaps her. From previous conversations, I got the impression that her father did not live with her, but I asked just to be sure. Not only does he not live with her, but he has about nine other children with six women other than her mom. Given the fact that I pay her school tuition, I know that her father does little to nothing to support her financially. Even if he did, that wouldn’t be an excuse for him to beat her, but it just added to my extreme dislike toward a man I’ve never even met.
I asked her what her mother does when her father hits her, and she said nothing because if she does anything, he’ll hit her too. I could feel the blood start to boil in my veins. Given my own family’s history with domestic violence, it’s a very emotionally-charged issue for me – one that I rarely discuss because I find that I cannot discuss it rationally. I couldn’t find the words in Creole, so I began to voice my anger in English. The girls just stood silently and stared at me. After my rant, I took a deep breath and tried to express myself in Creole so they could understand. When I said that men should not hit women, the girls responded that it’s okay in Haiti because it happens all the time, and that I shouldn’t be angry about it. As a way of proving their point, the other two girls then revealed that their fathers beat them too, and sometimes their mothers as well.
I hear stories all too often in Haiti of men abusing women physically, sexually and mentally. And as with the girls, it’s usually stated as if it’s simply a fact of life. Se lavi. I wanted the girls to understand that just because violence against women happens often in Haiti, it’s not right and should not be accepted as such. I encouraged them to stand strong against men, and even suggested that all the various mothers and children ban together and tell their fathers that they will no longer tolerate their abusive behavior. I could tell by the look on their faces that probably would not happen. But I’m not giving up.