Sunday, March 08, 2009

rape and cite soleil

The Guardian offers a vivid video report on the evil of rape in Cite Soleil and other shantytowns of Port au Prince, Haiti.

I certainly don't want to diminish the horror of this story. Unfortunately, though, the segment does traffick in the idea that sexual violence is the everyday reality of the 'slums' without unpacking some of the assumptions behind that assertion. Two examples:

1. While The Guardian reports the shocking stat that, during carnival, 15 women are raped each day, it doesn't distinguish whether those rapes are restricted to Cite Soleil and other shantytowns, or whether that's a city-wide number.

And 2. The video presents jerky hand-held images of men, women and kids standing in the darkness while UN soldiers with guns pass by. The reporter suggests that these lurkers are dangerous men on streetcorners. But the reality is that, on hot and steamy evenings, people in shantytowns often do leave their huts to get some air. In The Guardian's video footage, they seem to be gathered around a kiosk. It might be selling sodas or beer or calls on a mobile phone. While the extreme darkness--much of Cite Soleil has no electricity--makes it seem threatening, this may be no different from folks in any city hanging out in front of a barbershop or a corner store.

The reporter does point out that, in Haiti, the military, the police and various political gangs have all used rape as a tactic of subjugation. As Myriam Merlet, head of the government's Ministry of Women puts it, "Women have been raped every time there's political turmoil."

That's the ugly reality. It's beyond the so-called 'slums.' Women are victimized continually, in every segment of society.

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