When an American journalist and a cadre of aid workers in Haiti set out to tell a horrible story, they thought they were on the same side. But it didn't turn out that way.
On September 17, 2010, magazine reporter Mac McClelland climbed into a car in Port-au-Prince. The driver, a Haitian man named Alain Charles, was speeding a young rape victim and her mother to the hospital, and had invited McClelland along. Parts of the Haitian capital had disintegrated into chaos following the earthquake earlier that year, and the sprawling refugee camps were producing stories of horrific and frequent sexual violence. McClelland, on assignment from Mother Jones, where she works, had come to investigate.
Within two days of arriving in Haiti, McClelland linked up with Charles, whose work as a driver and translator for some of Haiti's largest foreign aid organizations brings him into frequent contact with journalists. He's also the project coordinator for the Patricia Fleming Fund, which provides safehouses for Haitian rape victims. By taking a ride with one of those victims, a then-24-year-old mother of three, McClelland was hoping to put a human face on Haiti's rape epidemic.
Instead, their day together became the subject of a heated and still-roiling dispute over what really happened between McClelland and the young Haitian woman, over how McClelland told the story, and over the basic nature of the relationship between journalist, subject, and the intermediary who connects the two. Nearly a year later, the incident has divided much of Haiti's once tight-knit community of Western journalists and aid workers.
McClelland and the Haitian rape victim she shadowed on September 17 share no common language. The young woman, who now identifies publicly as K*, does not speak English, and McClelland lacks Haitian Creole, a notoriously difficult language for non-native speakers. Before and during her time with K*, McClelland relied on Charles to serve as interpreter. He assured McClelland that she had K*'s consent to ride along on the trip.