Saturday, August 19, 2017

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Wonder-Girl, Sophia

Many months ago we began to share the history of a young woman named Sarah.  At that time a decision was made to be careful to keep Sarah's identity private while sharing her story.

Sarah knows that her history and her rising are both being shared on the internet. She is aware that we do not post pictures of her face on-line, but that her 7 month old daughter, Sophia, is the most photographed and instagrammed baby in all of Haiti.

We (staff of the Maternity Center) met Sarah in the fall of 2016 when she was 13 years old and 22 weeks pregnant.  

At the time we were told that while Sarah's mother was out in the country-side tending to a garden, Sarah was left alone at home. A man came to work in the shared yard between their home and the neighbor/land owner's home.  That man raped her. We were told that he was not someone Sarah or others in the shared yard could name or identify. We were told nobody knew who or where he was.

Sarah and her Mother told us that many weeks prior to coming to our Maternity Center, they did the official work of getting an examination at a specialty-non-government hospital to prove the assault had happened and begin the paperwork for filing a report with the police. That hospital agreed to allow Sarah to choose to get her prenatal care and deliver with us.

Because Troy and I live near Sarah and her mother, we interacted or at least waved and greeted one another daily for most of the last half of her pregnancy.  

Some trust was built between us all before the baby arrived.

In mid January, Sarah's Mom knocked on our gate one morning to say that Sarah was in labor.  Later that day beautiful Sophia was born at the Heartline Maternity Center.

The trauma and pain caused by a sexual assault is a huge thing to work through.

Giving birth to a baby that is a result of that assault is an entirely new trauma, especially for a thirteen year old.

It took a lot of time and grace and miraculous love for Sarah to decide to let down her guard enough to bond with and breastfeed Sophia.  She did that.  She became THE 2017 hopeful story for us all.

Had she not been able to do it, not a single one of us would have judged or been disappointed.  More than anything, her ability to serve and feed her newborn daughter blew our entire staff away. It still does seven and a half months later.

Since January things about the assault and the circumstances surrounding it have become more and less clear  --  at the same time -- more and less clear.

A metaphor for Haiti. Things are always more and less clear. 

Stories evolve and as more of it is being revealed we feel a sense of duty to help Sarah navigate a culture that is not predisposed to protect her or Sophia.

*   *   *

In March we celebrated Sarah's fourteenth birthday. We sang and took photos and tried to make it special. Sarah's Mom was invited to the party, but did not come. Around that time there were some things said and done in an effort to try and get Troy and I to move Sarah into our house. I won't go into the whole detailed story, but Sarah's Mom decided to make up a detailed story about losing their home in order to try and pressure us into inviting them to live with us.

We initially believed they were homeless. Within a few weeks several lies came to light and we sat down and talked about it.  They still live in the same house as always, and they never lost their home. 

On the surface it might seem like a great idea to just move her in, "Yes! Move S & S into your house! Do that!"  I probably cannot cover the nuances of the situation and the culture in one post, but the bottom line was that we knew that there were several lies being told and that the goal was to transfer responsibility for Sarah and Sophia over to us.  We know taking responsibility for children is no small thing, it is certainly not a short game either.  We have learned some hard lessons in our years here and decisions like that are not made under pressure.

(I wrote several more paragraphs about that ^ and decided to take them out of this post.)

In June Sarah's mom left to go south for the summer to work in their garden.  Sarah stayed with an aunt downtown for a time.  For whatever reason, that did not work out long term and Sarah is now back in our neighborhood and hanging out each day at the Maternity Center or our house. She has been helpful at the MC and jumps in to do the things she has learned how to help with over the months. During the day she plays with and feeds Sophie, watches TV, reads or rests. At night she sleeps in her own house down the street.

Sarah's Mom is supposed to return to Port au Prince this week.  In her Mom's absence we have started the process of getting Sarah registered to return to school this fall.  Sadly, when a young woman is a mother (whether raped or in a consensual relationships with a boyfriend) she must hide that fact from the school. 

There will not be anyone at school that will know Sarah is carrying the heavy responsibility of Sophia too.

Heartline Midwives worked with another young assault victim that had a baby boy with us in 2012.  That young woman also returned to school when her child was a year old and recently graduated at the top of her class in June 2017.  Nobody in her school, not teachers, faculty, or students, know she has a five year old. This is "system Ayiti". Somehow the onus of secrecy and shame is on the person that has been assaulted. It is justice denied.

This month we learned that the man that violated Sarah is in fact known. He has a name and they know it. We also know he lives about 8 miles from us. Not only that, we learned that he is requesting to see Sophia.  He is an adult, not a teenager.

This man's mother wants to take Sophia and has told Sarah as much.  She says she can raise Sophia for Sarah.

The people that own the land Sarah's little house sits on and share the same yard are telling Sarah that she should let Sophia know her dad.  (It seems that he is an acquaintance of theirs and they always knew who was responsible for Sarah's assault.) They recently told Sarah that Sophia is going to want to know who her father is and she should consider that. 

A couple of weeks ago Sarah asked KJ (a Midwife at the MC) if she has to let the rapist see Sophia and shared what the neighbors are saying.  Sarah said she fears what people will tell Sophia when she is older and can understand.  She said everyone in our neighborhood knows about the assault and knows Sophia is the product of that attack. She wonders how she can deal with the heaviness of that when other people might not honor her and allow that to be something that **she** tells Sophie some day.

There is no happy "we solved this" ending for Sarah and Sophia.  Right now we await confirmation that Sarah can return to school.  Sarah is resisting the pressure of the neighbors and refusing to agree that the family of the rapist has a right to know Sophia.

Three donors have come forward to cover the cost of Sophia's daycare and the cost of school.  We are waiting to hear from the school, Sarah took tests two days this week in order to get correct placement into the right classes.

The story continues to be come more and less clear.  We are all taking it one day and one change at a time.

We know one thing:  

We want better for Sarah and everyone like her.