Haiti Made Me Do It

An American journalist's claim that her experiences in Haiti led her to seek out violent sex is the latest example of foreigners blaming the country for their personal problems.

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haiticamps

Journalists who have reported from Haiti know that it's not an assignment for the weak of heart. Parts of the country -- particularly the capital, Port-au-Prince -- are tough places to work and even tougher places to live.

This is especially true for poor Haitians who were made homeless by the earthquake last year, who don't own cars to help them get around, who don't have jobs to help them make ends meet and who don't have the means to do anything about it. For American journalists working in Haiti, who live in relative luxury compared with most Haitians, the burden is more existential: how to cover a place wracked with economic problems, crippled by an earthquake, weighed down by never-ending social challenges and political turmoil -- and not be consumed by it.

Most of us develop coping mechanisms and push on. We try to tell stories that capture the nuances and complexities of the country. We try to give voice to ordinary, powerless people. We try to chronicle their daily struggles without robbing them of their dignity. We try very hard to keep our emotions in check.   

Many of us avoid making sweeping generalizations that stereotype the entire country and marginalize its citizens because we know that even after many years or decades of covering Haiti, it's a complicated, fluid, still-evolving place.

Then there are journalists like Mac McClelland, who has reported on Haiti for Mother Jones, who parachute in for a couple of weeks; are horrified by what they see; form quick, uninformed impressions; and then return home and write breathtakingly self-indulgent stories about how terrible their experiences were on the ground. 

While she isn't the first journalist to do this, and certainly won't be the last, her recent piece that ran in Good magazine, titled "I'm Going to Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD," was way beyond the pale. A short summary: She goes to Haiti and is so traumatized by the sight of guns and violence that the only way she can feel whole again is to solicit and engage in a sexual assault upon herself.

Needless to say, others who have written about Haiti for far longer than McClelland, and who know the country far better, were very disturbed. We promptly took her to task in an open letter issued Friday.

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What's galling is that even as she uses Haiti as a vehicle to write about her post-traumatic stress disorder -- I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt that she's being honest about having PTSD after two weeks in Haiti -- she turns Haitians' very real suffering into the source of her sexual fetishes. She does this by describing rapes by marauding, "gang-raping monsters" in the tent camps that house homeless earthquake victims.

Rapes at the camps are indeed a tragic reality of postearthquake Haiti, but she paints a picture of Haiti as the site of collective male wilding. Never mind that she's only talking about the capital, which before the earthquake had some 3 million residents, and not the entire country of 10 million. 

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