Rape. In the United States alone, it is estimated that one in six women has been a victim of rape, while one in 33 men has been raped in his lifetime.
However, rape is vastly underreported, many times due to societal constrains, fear of victim blaming or the sheer shame associated with the violent act.
The topic has been, for too long, taboo in polite social circles, and its off-limits status has, in turn, made society complicit in both allowing it to happen, as well as covering it up. And while the #metoo movement has fueled support for victims of violent sexual assault rather than the age-old victim blaming (“She was asking for it”), it remains a sensitive, difficult conversation to have no matter the situation or platform.
Rape, sexual abuse and assault continues to do untold damage to victims at every level of society and in every corner of the earth. The idea that somewhere is safe and insulated is a false narrative, many times perpetrated by assailants themselves. Nowhere is this more true than in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which is where our story takes us this month.
On January 19, 2022, five Haitian women took to the airwaves of Instagram to discuss the topic on the No Filter Channel (@nofilterchannel) profile. Moderated by Hugline Jerome, Caëlle Jean-Baptiste and Fabiola Coupet, the guests shared a most intimate, painful secret: all of them had been sexually assaulted, molested or raped in their lifetimes. This lineup of all Haitian women – who are entrepreneurs, personalities and known figures within the Haitian society – shocked viewers, many of whom had never heard rape discussed so openly. For others it recalled a story from 2014, when Cynthia Verna, a chef from Haiti living in Miami, published her memoir, “Calvaires: Viols… et autres souffrances,” which described the sexual assaults and rapes she endured in her adolescence, one of which resulted in the birth of her first-born son. Verna was one of the panelists who joined No Filter Channel to discuss the topic in detail.
For the others, Beatrice Kebreau, Matti Domingue and Coupet, it was the first time they’d spoken openly about the subject. "What I want everyone to take away from this emission is that is there life after an experience like this," said Coupet.
At one point, Jerome’s telephone was simply overwhelmed – streaming the Instagram Live while also receiving hundreds of messages – and abruptly died, cutting the live feed. When she restored it, more than 300 viewers reconnected to watch and listen.
After the Instagram Live ended, Polo Lifestyles connected with Jerome, Kebreau and Verna. The three of them had been overwhelmed by the reception and were planning the next emission, Let’s Talk About Rape Part 2, scheduled for the following Wednesday evening.
“Before we started planning the show a week ago, I thought I was alone (in my rape),” recounted Kebreau, whose story on Wednesday night detailed a horrific rape by a family member, molestation by a close family friend and her attempted suicide. For years, Kebreau was unable to speak about the assaults and rapes, and as a result, was continually subjected to the presence of both her rapist and molester. On top of that, at school, bullying destroyed her self-confidence, and she longed for peace that she imagined death might bring. At 14, she jumped from the balcony of her family home, but only broke her leg in the process. In her 20s, she began to work with one psychologist, then another, and finally a psychiatrist to helped her understand that part of her healing could come from helping others. Today, Kebreau uses dance and song therapies as avenues for her healing – and to help others with their own healing, too.
Verna, who became a household name in 2015 within Haitian social circles following the publishing of her book, found the reception this time around to be warmer. “I was put through the wringer seven years ago,” she shared. Because one of her rapists was a woman, “I was called bisexual, a lesbian; my name was just destroyed,” Verna said. She created a foundation to help other survivors: Rebirth After Sexual Abuse, or RASA. It was through her charitable work that she started meeting other victims, both in Haiti and aboard. “It’s worth the fight, and when you get an opportunity (to heal), you take it,” she concluded.
The following Wednesday, January 26, Jerome reprised the discussion on rape with two new guests: Dr. Roseline Benjamin, a psychologist, and Ambassador Claude-Alix Bertrand, the latter of whom surprised Jerome when he named the rapist, Evans Lescouflair, of his adolescence during the livestream. The details of his assaults over two years’ time were too much for Jerome, who broke down and walked away from the recording. More than double the number from the previous week watched the show live. The recording, posted to her profile, had thousands of views, reposts and shares.
Bertrand’s inbox was flooded immediately, with messages from friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers, some of whom shared their own experiences of assaults and rapes. Bertrand wanted viewers to understand why he spoke publicly about his rape on Wednesday’s show. “There’s a perception that boys and men can’t be raped, because of the physical reaction to intimate touch, but all non-consensual sexual relationships are rape, moreover heinous when the aggressor is an adult and the victim is a child,” he said before detailing what he called two years of hell. Bertrand was only 11 years old when his private school teacher savagely took advantage of his innocence under the guise of one-on-one private tutoring and coaching.
He recounted how, though he had been an honor student, his grades suffered and his interest in school declined. “My lesson all these years later - and what I will tell any parent - is this: notice small changes in your child... those changes are indicative of a bigger problem. As the adults in the room, its our job to figure that part out when our children can't describe what's wrong.”
In the years since his tenure at Bertrand’s school, Lescouflair served as Minister of Sport and Youth for the Government of Haiti, which has now fueled discussions about his sinister and carefully executed career that kept him close to children for decades. In 2010, a case was brought against him, but didn’t result in any legal action in the confusion following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti that same year. This time around, it seems that retaliatory mobs may take justice into their own hands in the absence of a clear path to prosecute crimes like these in the Caribbean nation.
Jerome had planned for Part 2 to be the conclusion of her series on rape, but following the emission she indicated it could be a longer running series. “One of the things we’ve noted is the need for our generation of parents to be more in touch with their child’s emotions and unspoken behaviors. No matter how close you think you are with your child, this is a nearly impossible subject for them to bring up. When we see a change in our child, as the parents, it’s our responsibility to find out what’s going on,” she said.
Kebreau and Verna echoed that sentiment, encouraging parents not to use euphemisms when referring to intimate body parts. “It can be uncomfortable, sure,” said Verna. “But if it helps your child avoid a devastating incident, it will be worth a few moments of discomfort. Giving a child license to name body parts scientifically is very empowering.” Verna knows about difficult conversations with her children. Prior to the publication of her 2015 memoir, she sat down with her son to tell him he was the result of her teenage rape. “He was incredibly kind in his response,” she said. Later, she noted, he told her it was really “fucked up” that her rapist had gotten away with his crime for all these years. Honesty is truly the best policy when it comes to your children – let them see you vulnerable and transparent, she concluded.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or raped, please contact the authorities or reach out to an organization that can help you, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline in the United States, 1-800-656-4673.