A girl walks into a room. It’s pitch dark inside. In my memory, she is nameless, ageless. She’s not even a clear voice. Just a muffled scream that printed itself onto my mind. That girl didn’t, couldn’t know her fate. In the unlit room, she perceives the silhouette of a man. Her boyfriend. Who else could it be? He reaches out to her. She falls into his arms. She falls into the trap. By the time she realizes, it is too late. She’s alone, alone in a dark room filled with men. Men everywhere, now standing at the door, hiding under the bed, restraining her moves. All so young but rendered dangerous by their sense of entitlement. “Men are generally stronger than women.” You never take the full measure of this statement until you find yourself in such a situation, knowing that resisting could make it even worse. She tries to escape. It’s useless. So, she screams. And we heard her.
It was just the two of us. As always. We never talked much. Maybe it was the age gap or her just not knowing what to discuss with a child like me. Luckily, we could just let the images from the television invade us, knock us out to sleep. She was the first to hear the noise. Always lost in my thoughts, I had never been very attentive to my surroundings. She lowered the volume of the TV set. And we sat quietly, waiting for the noise to come back. And it did. Louder. We jumped on our feet and went to the entrance. Something was going on in the house upstairs. She rose her voice and asked. A male voice told her to let it go and get back inside. She obeyed. And I followed. I was 11. I did not think that it was my place to intervene and not in a million years, would I have been able to guess what was happening.
We learned all about it the next day. The guys sat us down and told us the whole story as if it was nothing. How one of them was that girl’s boyfriend, how she cheated on him and they decided to give her a lesson. So they waited for her in that room. They said that she was reluctant at first but they managed to convince her that it was in her best interests to do as she was told. Her boyfriend raped her first. The third guy, while in her, told her to wiggle her hips if she wanted to leave anytime soon. « Gouye non si w vle al lakay ou ». I don’t know whether she did. But they all seemed satisfied with their night and proud of themselves. All except the youngest boy, 16 year old. And here they were, making fun of him. Because when the girl saw him, so young, she couldn’t bear it anymore. Nothing could contain her fury and they had to let her go.
The audience, mildly smiling, reacted by lifting their eyes to heaven. Boys will be boys. Case closed. At that time, I had the sense that something was wrong, which is probably why this event had such a lasting impact on me. But, if the adults took it so lightly, it certainly was nothing. How could the men we know be monsters? Monsters were creepy old dudes lurking in gloomy streets, preying on virginal girls. Not boys having sex with their girlfriends. Getting the friends involved was certainly questionable. But how could it be rape? The boys who befriended my family, who were at my house all the time, making me laugh so often, couldn’t be rapists. Could they?
Recently, I was part of an activity inspired by techniques from theater of the opressed, where we were asked to give a representation of oppression by positioning someone else’s body in a certain way. All of us, including myself, displayed people on their knees, humiliated, bodies in pain, chained, bundled up on the floor. None of us thought about showing the oppressor. It struck me how deeply this bias was still ingrained in me, even after years of fighting to overcome it, knowing how harmful it can be. The anonimity often granted to the oppressors stem from society’s desire to protect them. The old man caught raping an eight year old girl in our neighborhood was allowed to walk free because people argued that the conditions in our prisons were too harsh so it would have been an unjust punishment to send him to die there. After all, he was somebody’s son, brother, cousin. Just a silly old man who made a mistake. Wasn’t that girl always laughing at the men’s jokes and being all too promiscuous?
So it always goes.
*Bibil is a word used in Haitian Creole to refer to occurences like I described above. It is without a doubt gang rape but in our society it is often presented as harmless. Just something that boys do. Something that doesn’t happen to nice girls (whatever that means) but if we’re being honest, we know that as long as this rape culture is prevailing, it can really happen to any of us.