Behind-the-scenes of AP photographer’s experience covering violence against women in Haiti

FILE - Lenlen Desir Fondala shows her hand that is missing a finger shot off by a stray bullet during a gang attack while she was living in Cite Soleil, as she stands in Jean-Kere Almicar's front yard where she is seeking refuge, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

FILE – Lenlen Desir Fondala shows her hand that is missing a finger shot off by a stray bullet during a gang attack while she was living in Cite Soleil, as she stands in Jean-Kere Almicar’s front yard where she is seeking refuge, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

Ariana Cubillos is an Associated Press photojournalist based in Caracas, Venezuela. She was based in Haiti from 2004 to 2009, and also covered the country’s 2010 earthquake and its descent into gang violence.

In June 2023, I was zipping through the bustling streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on the back of a motorcycle. After covering the Caribbean nation for years, I was in search of stories that could highlight the human impact of Haiti’s deepening gang violence crisis.

I stumbled upon the courtyard of a small house where a group of women and their children were clustered. The place was a kind of shelter for the families who were protecting each other as a group after being forced to flee their homes. The owner of the house let them stay there so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the street with their children.

When I began to hear their stories, most had been sexually assaulted, others had gunshot wounds or signs of physical abuse. Some had witnessed the execution of their husbands.

That day is one of the best examples I have in my career where I felt that being a woman opened a door for me to tell these vulnerable stories and build a connection with these women that allowed me to capture the very intimate consequences of Haiti’s crisis. The empathy, the natural connection with them that I felt, I think, was reflected in my images.

They gave me their names, they told me their stories, they showed me documents certifying the sexual abuse.

Between clicks of my camera, I felt the satisfaction of being able to document something I felt was important mixed with a great helplessness — especially as a woman — watching violence against women be such a recurrent theme.

That day, I photographed Januelle Datka, with her baby, Princess, and her 15-year-old daughter Titti. Datka and Titti told me how they’d both been raped by gang members and had become pregnant. Together, they were forced through abuse to become mother, daughter, sister and grandmother all at the same time. The sadness of their tragedy hung in their eyes, a reminder of the reality so many Haitian women now face.

As we spent time together, they spoke about their tragedy, their pain, the injustice of what had happened to them without filters, as if they hadn’t had the opportunity to fully process what had happened to them because they had been running in survival mode. I felt that day the openness women so often have with each other in vulnerable moments like this. ___

This feature is part of a series highlighting Associated Press journalists for Women’s History Month.

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