A Reader’s Account of Sexual Violence in Cuba

Winter, from the series: Behind the veil of Persefones, by Irina Echarry.

HAVANA TIMES – Sexual harassment and violence vary in degree, they each have their peculiarities; they all deserve our attention because of how hard it is to deal with them, to come to terms with.

Everybody creates their own defense mechanisms; the important thing is to reconsider it as many times as you need to so you can come out as unscathed as possible.

Today, Havana Times is publishing a reader’s account about something that happened in her childhood; it is never too late to speak out, to reflect upon what happened, to warn others.


Between memory and dignity

Luckily, the human mind has unsuspected abilities, it can be our worst enemy at times, but it protected me greatly. I apparently came home that day after collecting guanabanas (soursops) with my cousin, then I stayed locked up in my room, refusing to come out and eat. When my mother was telling my cousin off, he kept saying, over and over again, that we had split up when we got to the grove; and that really was what happened. Nothing would have happened had I kept walking by his side.

I remember the events after that day as if they were in slow-motion. My mother touched my forehead and I seemed to have a fever, I tried to move my arms and legs, but I was stiff. Ever since then, whenever somebody in the family mentions soursop trees, everyone says they’re toxic. My father still claims that fumigating fruit trees is lethal to our health.

Forgetting the incident for over 30 years, was one of the many long-term damages I suffered. I barely have any childhood memories. My problems with boys began when I was 14 years old. I liked them but I found it impossible to get physically close to them, even in games. Every time one of them touched me or grazed past me, I would automatically cover my genitals with my hand, as a protective measure.

I went from high school to university without having a boyfriend. Over time, I became aware that something was going on with me and that it was clearly related to things that happened in my childhood. The label “strange” followed me everywhere. Therapist appointments became a regular. I had many hypnosis sessions until an expert told my mother that I should just flow with my trauma, that I just needed time to forget absolutely everything.

I was never very popular. At pre-university, I was always walking with a book in my hand. Afterwards, my degree occupied all of my time. To tell you the truth, I studied medicine with the hope that I would discover what the cause was of my situation. Working in a hospital is intense, concerning yourself with others takes up all of your time. My patients became the center of my world. I can tell you that I was completely asexual for many years.

I suffered a great deal during all of my teenage years and a part of my childhood. My physical symptoms didn’t compare to the psychological torment I suffered thinking that I was dirty, violated, humiliated. The girl who woke up the day after collecting soursops, was never the same again. I can’t imagine my mother’s confusion when she came face to face with this nine-year-old girl who couldn’t bear anyone touching her. She never bathed me or brushed my hair again; I didn’t let her; but I never heard her complain either. I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for her determination and strength.

Soon after that day, my family moved: my mother, my father and I went to live in Central Havana and I never went back to visit that home in Marianao, not even in my memories.

One day, I was going with a friend to the home of a student who hadn’t shown up to the hospital after an awful illness. By one of those mysterious twists of fate, the house address led us to an area that seemed familiar to me. I began to sweat, and I lost my demeanor, there came a time when I couldn’t stop hyperventilating. To my surprise, I was right in front of the house of one of my neighbors from back in the day, and even though it had been 30 years since I’d seen him, I saw his face as clear as day.

Images played out one after the other and I saw myself entering the grove with my cousin: him heading towards 35th Avenue and me heading towards the 91 bus stop. The memory was so intense that I could smell the semen on the hand that covered my mouth and the smell of cigarettes and sharp sweat on his body, the weight of his arm on my chest… but his face was the worst thing, the face of our neighbor who had been my father’s best friend back then.

Memories of that day kept coming back to me for a long time, over and over again. Then, came acceptance and understanding. After many years, I walked back into a psychologist’s room and everything was a lot easier. Without even realizing, my phobia slowly resided.

It took time for me to get used to having a sex life, I was lucky enough to find a very patient and loving partner, who has led me down all the paths that were unknown to me. I have a full loving relationship now, but I know that other female victims of sexual violence haven’t been as lucky.

Keeping rape a secret in childhood is a hard thing to do, but it’s a lot harder to know that a potential rapist might be a relative or a close friend.

Striking up a friendship that allows someone to get close to a home where children live is a great responsibility for childhood is a golden age that requires all of parents’ care and attention. Mothers, fathers and children need a strong connection of trust and intimacy that allows communication to flow even in extreme situations.

I would advise every woman who is a victim of sexual violence to go to the corresponding authorities and emergency services so they can be seen by experts. And not to be afraid to speak to their families; you shouldn’t suffer this trauma alone. A rapist is a sexual predator who needs to be arrested and locked up, nobody has the right to violate another person and take away their dignity.

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One thought on “A Reader’s Account of Sexual Violence in Cuba

  • A reality that is all too common. Exposure requires tremendous courage by those who have suffered as illustrated in this article.

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