The Haitian church shames sexual abuse survivors: I lived to tell my story
June 20, 2018
By Djanaina Salomon, AFROPUNK contributor
I sat among the mass of a Haitian baptist church one Sunday, as someone other than Bi, feminist and survivor. Hiding one’s true self in its entirety is the sacrifice an individual often has to make to avoid being maliciously judged by Haitian religious groups. Society spends so much time telling us that who we are is wrong , it is without wonder that so many of us seek refuge under these synthetic personalities so to feel protected from the evils of the world while also enduring the internal turmoils, where the real us, the us that is different but not all that different after all, is deprived of happiness and vitality.
While we are on the subject of wearing masks, these days, more and more women are stripping themselves bare, revealing a series of abuse and harassment from men that they’ve had to endure in their lifetime. Which brings me to one winter morning, on my therapist’s couch. I remember how foreign and uncomfortable it felt hearing myself put the words “I” and “molested” in the same sentence. I never thought I would live to tell my story to anyone, in fact, it was the first time sitting on that couch that I’ve felt the slightest inclination to listen to it. I quickly realized the tangibility of my trauma, it was out and my brain could no longer suppress it to a state of non-existence. My telling swept me off into threatening seas, unfamiliar to their origins, diving deep into a world of trauma revisitation and confusion. I grieve for the openness I wish I had with my mother and my siblings. I spent a lot of time imagining a world where people feel fury by the despicable things being done to women’s bodies every day, more so I imagine a world where people would stop telling women that they are the authors of their own injustice. Surely, we have a long way to go I told myself, sitting in that church listening to the pastor delivering a sermon on how women should carry themselves because of the expectations listed in the bible. Furthermore, there were concerns about the rise of democracy and how it has allowed freedom to flow fluidly in unlikable decisions led by women . There is something very distressing about watching a man deliberately outline what the existence of a woman should look like and then use his God to further back up his misogynistic ideology. It is even sadder watching the nods of agreement from his female counterparts who actually believe that it is his right by default.
When I was in High school a member of a Haitian baptist church in Brooklyn named Marie, let’s call her Marie to preserve her loved one’s privacy, unexpectedly took her life. According to my aunt who was a faithful member of that church for years, described Marie’s marriage as exemplary, “goals” for the lack of better term. She and her husband paraded with their children every Sunday with their faces beaming, body language consistently exuding black excellence in its purest form. If only one knew that under her concealer hid evidence of the ruckus from the night before. You see, Marie became a pro, as her marriage continued to age well like fine wine in the public eye, her trips to the hospital for broken ribs increased, and the cashiers at the drugstore finally came to the conclusion that Marie was one hell of a concealer fanatic. The only testimony from Marie came from the diary she left behind. The week of her death, members of the church visited her home, cleaned her things, and mourned her like any good friend would. Then nothing. The man who did this to her walked freely, he swallowed her whole and walked, they did nothing.
In 2013 I stayed at a pastor’s home in North Carolina during a financial crisis. When I stepped into that home, I was immediately taken care of by the pastor’s wife and his cousin. They fed me, gave me a bed to sleep soundly at night. His cousin immediately grew an interest in me, going to the great extent to show me kindness. But that’s not all he did. Sometimes, when I sat next to him alone in his car, his eyes wandered, browsing every inch of my body. He would ask me about personal things, the married man and a father of two wanted to know every detail concerning my love life. Sometimes, late at night he would knock on my door, and invite himself in. Sitting on a chair across from my bed, he would talk about nothing for hours. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable. The one-sided conversations often faded into a moment of silence, his predatory eyes staring intensely at his prey while I guarded myself with the bed sheets wrapped around my body, my arms crossed against my torso. The thought of him bursting that door open while I sleep kept me up at night. Desperate for guidance, i reported the incident back to my sister, whom proceeded to then tell me about being sexually harassed by the pastor since joining that church but has been reluctant to come forward fearing that members would expel her based on the assumption that her claim is a vindictive attempt to break up his perfect marriage like they have done to other women before.
The year was 2012, I was in my room chatting online with my girlfriend at the time when someone knocked on my door. My cousin waved a bottle of Hennessy in my face, excited to tell me about this newly discovered company succeeding at making their employees financially independent. From the day I moved in, our relationship always consisted of serious talks about financial freedom, dreams, and advice on boys. It wasn’t any different that night, he came in, poured me a drink, I sat, he laid and we talked. A thought landed on me unsolicitedly like the top of his fingers feeling on my underwear, that thought was change. It happened so fast, I was ambushed, I didn’t see it coming or else I would’ve stopped it. I opened my mouth hoping words would come out and he opened his, whispering into my ears that he would pay me money to have sex with him. Having one sexual trauma under my belt, I still felt unequipped to maneuver what was happening. I smiled, I got up and told him that I was going to bed. He came back a week later, aggressively that time, walking in at 3 am uninvited like a vile pest holding me up to his offer. When I finally came around to telling a close relative their sentiment was pure outrage at the fact that I invited a man into my space without covering up first.
Shortly after opening up to my therapist about being molested by a housekeeper, I started diving deeper into how my PTSD manifested itself. What I discovered was that it isn’t normal to hate your body when experiencing sexual pleasure, it isn’t normal to engage in intercourse and not being able to voice discomfort. I lived with those feelings for so long, I eventually thought that girls weren’t meant to love their bodies and enjoy sex. Many women’s sexual history, including my own, is founded under this belief that we are meant to please even at our own expense. During therapy, I made the decision to retract, and go back to my body through reading, yoga, and masturbation. It is important for women to learn about themselves, what they like. We tend to leave it to a partner to figure out somehow what our bodies respond well to. Every woman is taught from the beginning, men are in charge, they lead the sexual course. We must take our bodies back and learn about them. In the process of making the world a better place for all women, we need to start examining the institutions in place, working against them every day Churches who talk down about women for wearing clothes that are not up to “ The standards” comply to violence against them, no matter how subtle. We cannot thrive as a gender if we are being taught that the only way to be socially acceptable is if we cover up what we look like. This idea that the female body serves as a disturbance to a man’s moral compass, empowers abusers, infesting communities with enablers further silencing survivors.