“I was 12 years old when I got pregnant”. These were the words that a young girl at Jasper House stated, and the further I assessed, the more details she provided about her experience dealing with traumatic experiences. She disclosed about going from one abusive relationship to another, and trusting a man who raped her in her own home every single day. My heart was shattered to hear this young woman’s experiences, but I was in awe to see how she carried herself with such grace and resilience. This young woman was just one of the few women in Jasper House that were dealing with trauma that has impacted their life in a negative way.
I had travelled to Haiti often as a Haitian-American, but my trip to Haiti in November 2015 couldn’t be described in words, but felt with emotions. During this trip, I realized there was a large, problematic issue amidst the country when it came to recognizing the impact of mental health and trauma. I can vividly remember a young girl at Jasper House not being able to recognize that sex, which isn’t consensual, is rape. She felt shame and guilt for what had happened to her, and expressed some of her symptoms as nightmares, tremors, flashbacks, etc. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) exists in Haiti and there is a large portion within the Haitian community that does not address mental health and trauma.
According to the DSM-5, PTSD is described as a Trauma and Stressor-Related disorder with exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. Furthermore, directly experiencing the traumatic event, witnessing the traumatic event in person, learning the traumatic events happened to a family or close friend and experiencing first hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of a traumatic event.
Many of the girls at Jasper House had an extensive history of childhood and adult sexual abuse, as well as that of being sexually exploited in Haiti. Many women with a history of sexual trauma have an internalized self of being shameful and disgusted with what occurred. In addition, sexual trauma can significantly impact a woman’s interpersonal style, such as difficulties establishing healthy friendships with other women, distrust and fear of men, and being vulnerable to being re-traumatized. The difficulties survivors of sexual trauma experiences with self-perception include: distorted beliefs and thought patters, such as feeling responsible for the abuse, worthless, shame, guilt and damages. Not only does Jasper House provide safe housing for these women, but they offer an enrichment program and curriculum that confronts the challenges of mental health and sexual trauma.
I am extremely proud of the work of Jasper House, and the opportunities for advancement it allows for the women. Many of the women were uncomfortable with addressing unhealthy relationship patterns and addressing their sexual health. During my week-long stay at Jasper House, I observed the women receiving sexual health education from a Nurse Educator. This allowed the opportunity for the women to reclaim their own body and the ability to be empowered and assertive. Jasper House has also hired a Licensed Psychologist who is clinically trained in trauma-informed therapy to help the women process their traumatic experiences. The services that the Jasper House provides is extremely important with reducing the stigma of mental health and trauma while promoting access to quality care and treatment in Haiti. Jasper House is an extraordinary organization that is making an impact in the lives of these women and raising awareness on an issue that has been a silent matter for a very lengthy time. I am looking forward to the growth and influence Jasper House will make in the Haitian community and seeing the progression of access to quality and evidenced-based programs.
Written by: Marline François - A woman of faith, therapist, child abuse advocate, speaker and survivor. Marline's mission in life is to teach teen girls to thrive beyond the survival mode. She believes that your past pain can propel you towards your purpose.
Marline is the founder of Far More Precious Organization, a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides teen girls ages 14-19 with personal and professional development, enrichment programs and academic scholarships. She has over 10 years of professional experience in the social workand non-profit sector, backed with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Penn State University and a Master's Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University.
Currently, Marline works as a Sexual Trauma Therapist providing therapy to teenage girls. She offers mentorship to youths in the community and facilitates support groups for survivors of sexual abuse. She has a passion for working with young girls and millennial women and helping them thrive towards success.
Learn more about she and her work at her website, marlinefrancois.com.