Usually, when we hear talk about sexual violence, the first thing that comes to mind is violence against women and girls (VAWG). In many ways, this is understandable because women and girls are more likely to be subjected to sexual abuse. This can occur through their husbands, partners, strangers, members of their family, etc. The number of women and girls in the world who are subjected to sexual violence is consistently high.
In Haiti, there is no recent statistic which measures the prevalence of sexual violence. However, where numbers of cases are recorded, we see to what extent this situation is present and real, and it does not cease to increase, despite the serious efforts of women’s organisations as well as a new law which has brought to light many incidences of sexual violence.
Aside from sexual violence against women and girls, there exists another form of sexual violence. This form is more hidden, but it is present nonetheless. It is sexual violence against men and boys. It is hidden because, like young girls, young boys are afraid to speak out. Boys are particularly afraid to speak out because of the way their society differentiates girls and boys. However, it is a reality that often occurs and deserves to be talked about because it concerns violence against people. There are no reliable data to measure its occurrence, but there are many reported case in which boys are victims of sexual violence.
It is not easy for boys to speak out about being victims of sexual violence because of the ways men and boys are considered in society. It is challenging because it is not something that is openly talked about. Men and boys in Haitian society are not expected to cry or complain. They are always expected to prove their strength and their masculinity. Men and boys are therefore not able to talk about experiences of sexual violence because such acts are seen as diminishing masculinity. This is what has been evidenced in my discussions with male victims of rape. They expressed their fears of being considered homosexual because of their implication in this act.
This is the reason why many men and boys, victims of rape in Haiti do not speak out. They keep their mouths shut so that society does not mock them or consider them to be gay after having been raped. This aspect of mental suffering because of being silently ostracized from society, as well as the psychological problems associated with sexual violence, trauma and post-traumatic stress mean that men and boys are victims on several levels.
Sexual violence is a criminal act, whether it is done to boys, to women or to girls. It’s a crime that brings much destruction to the victims’ bodies and souls. Both girls and boys suffer terribly after having been subjected to sexual violence, and it is very difficult to limit the terrible consequences in the lives of each victim. All children who have been victims of sexual abuse, whether they are girls or boys, should be offered support.
The following story describes a case I came across:
Jonas (name changed) is 10 years old. He was living with mister Jean, who was paying Jonas’ schooling for him. Jean would have sex with Jonas whenever he wanted to. Jonas carried that secret because he was a child and was afraid to tell anyone. Mister Jean had a public transport business. One day, one of his drivers came by to drop off the day’s earnings. The driver knocked on the door, but didn’t hear a reply. Because he was used to coming and going in the house, he went in anyway, and climbed the stairs to find mister Jean. He saw mister Jean raping the child. He ran down the stairs without saying a word. Mister Jean had not seen him.
The driver told me this story, it had shook him up. My first reaction was to ask him, ‘what did you do?’. He replied that he hadn’t done anything, or told anyone about it. He didn’t tell the police because mister Jean has a lot of power. He didn’t want for him to take revenge on him as an employee, or his family.
The driver was scared to tell anyone about the incident he witnessed. But as he was talking about the event, I thought about the fact that he has a son who is the same age as Jonas. In a way, by not reporting the crime, or interfering in some way, the driver became an accomplice in this crime. He could have called the police anonymously for them to go to the mister Jean’s house, but he said that the servant had seen him in the house while she was cooking, and he was afraid of reprisal.
Junior was 8 years old when he ended up on the streets. Junior washed and polished cars in order to survive. He slept outside in the street. His mother died when he was born and his father had gone to live with another woman who did not take care of him. He took to the streets because his father used to beat him regularly. His first sexual encounter happened during his very first night on the streets. It was a man who was considered the leader of a group of street children who was responsible. He was someone that all street children would go to for support and security. He was a sort of father figure who was considered to be protecting these children.
Junior is now 17 years old. He told me his story and divulged that almost all children living in the street go through the same experiences of sexual violence.
There are a number of points to be aware of with regards to sexual violence against children.
Children and young people are ashamed to bring up issues of sexual violence, because they are likely to be mocked for it. They are often unaware of any safe place where they are able to bring up these issues without judgment.
Children, whether they are girls or boys, usually don’t talk about these issues and parents are often unaware of what is going on. Parents are unlikely to think about the fact that their children might be subjected to sexual violence even though it does happen to many children. Sometimes it can even happen in school, where children are considered to be safe.
The number of street-children that are also victims of sexual violence is staggering.
In an interview I did with young boys living in the street, who are the most common male victims, they told me that their first sexual experiences had been with adult men, some tourists etc.
The problem of sexual violence against children is very real. This situation is exacerbated by political instability. This is the current situation today for children in Haiti. We are in an environment where the existence of abuse in general is not addressed, and where sexual abuse, which is an even more sensitive issue, remains ignored.
While we continue to work on these issues, there are steps parents can take to address this problem. Parents can play a key role in providing a safe environment for their children to learn and share. Parents should open lines of communication with their children, introducing issues of sexual violence, and allowing children to speak openly. This must happen when children are young, before they become too influenced by society’s issues. Children must learn from their parents how to protect themselves, whether it be against members of their family, school staff etc. They need to learn that their bodies are their own private property and that no other person has a right to touch them. They must learn that they need to speak up any time a person attempts to touch them inappropriately.
Parents must talk about these issues in a very clear manner with their children, and provide a non-judgemental space for their speak up as soon as they feel something is not right. Many children are afraid of their parents. Sometimes, adult perpetrators will threaten children, telling them they will take revenge on them or members of their family if they say anything.
Schools also have a responsibility to address this issue. They should make children aware of the existence of sexual violence, inform them how to protect themselves from it, and how to recognise signs that a person might be an abuser.
All children who are in a centre or orphanage must also be made aware. The director or manager should provide a forum for children to learn about these issues and discuss them in a safe and confidential environment.
In Haitian society, men who commit acts of sexual violence against other men or boys are considered to be homosexuals. However, it is important to know that sexual orientation and homosexuality are not connected to sexual violence. The life choices of a person, and their sexual orientation, do not predetermine one’s likelihood to be an abuser. To be a ‘masisi’ or ‘homosexual’ does not mean that you are someone who commits sexual violence.
People who commit acts of sexual violence are suffering from a form of illness, and they are entitled to seek the care they need.
Meanwhile, it is necessary now that much reflection is done by human rights organisations and organisations which fight against sexual violence against women and girls so that they bring into consideration issues of sexual violence against men and boys as well.