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SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ASSAULT: AN APPALLING FORM OF BEHAVIOUR



Credit: Georges Bossous, Jr.
Sean "Diddy" Combs & Gloria Estefane / Photo Credit: Georges Bossous, Jr.

In 2010 I saw Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida during an event hosted by the Black Entertainment Television (BET), in support of Haiti after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people. I was there to cover the unprecedented event on behalf of Unveil Magazine, which I owned and served as the publisher. I had a rare opportunity to observe and photograph several of the participating celebrities, including Combs. 

 

From a mere observation of the rapper and business mogul, one may  get the impression  that he was a nice and friendly person. I observed his down-to-earth interactions with many of his peers including Cuban American singer and actress Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio Estefan. I was excited to see so many celebrities and very influential figures in one place in support of my devastated homeland. Other celebrities present included Spike Lee, Jimmy Jean Louis, Common, Wyclef Jean, Chris Brown, Kirk Franklin, Queen Latifah, Jowee Omicil, Alonzo Mourning, to name a few.

 



Spike Lee / Photo Credit: Georges Bossous, Jr.

While photographing and interviewing some of those superstars, the idea of any of them being involved in any kind of sexual and physical assault was unfathomable. Thus, I was stunned by the news of Diddy’s presumable involvement in sex trafficking and sexual assault. Such a report sends a shockwave across the American music industry. Nonetheless, a wise person might remind us to never judge a book by its cover.

 

The #MeToo Movement has prompted an avalanche of sexual assault cases involving powerful social and political figures that would otherwise be buried forever. From Harvey Weinstein,  Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, to R Kelly the list of powerful personalities and celebrities being accused, charged, or entangled in sexual misconduct seems endless.  According to the New York Times, the #MeToo movement brought down 201 powerful men.

 

There have been numbers of  high-profile allegations that proceeded the #MeToo Movement. For instance in 1995, the former President Bill Clinton was engulfed in scandals related to sexual relationship with then-21-year-old, Monica Lewinsky and alleged sexual harassment of Paula Jones.  Not too long ago in 2020, former President Donald Trump had faced his loads of sexual assault allegations as well. At least 18 women have accused the former president and business mogul of sexual misconducts—allegations that Trump denied.

 

Today, the well-known rapper and producer, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs stands accused of sex trafficking and sexual assault.  No less than four different women, including Combs’ ex-girlfriend, singer Cassie Ventura, have accused him of sexual assault. Combs has allegedly raped, sexually assaulted and emotionally abused her for more than seven years, according to a statement released by the alleged victim.  In addition, in a recent video obtained and released by CNN, Combs was seen violently pushing to the ground and kicking his former girlfriend, Cassie Ventura.

 

Combs has released a seemingly remorseful video apologizing for his violent behaviors. “I feel disgusted then and still feel disgusted now. I’m sorry,” the rapper said. However, many voices have been raised against Diddy’s lack of contrition, arguing that he did not actually offer an apology to Ventura, neither to other women who have accused him of sexual assault.

 

In an article published by the BBC, the editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine, Amy DuBois Barnett, stated “I don't see a path for him to come back from this”. She added that Combs had been carrying a questionable reputation in the industry for a while.

 

When my friend Marie-Monique Jean -Gilles, (aka La Reine Soleil), host of the show ‘Paroles de Femmes’ at Radio et Tele Kiskeya, shared the CNN article and video with me, I was flabbergasted. The level of violence was very disturbing. In one scene Combs grabbed Ventura by the collar and dragged her. The CNN article highlighted that the young model has endured years of multiple types of abuse from Combs. Ventura was only 19 years old, and Combs 37, when their romantic relationship had begun.

 

Jean-Gilles left me a couple of voice notes expressing hurt and rage regarding the multiple incidents of physical and sexual abuse that Ventura has reported to have endured. “These people are monsters,” she said. 

 



Alonzo "Zo" Mourning / Photo Credit: Georges Bossous, Jr.

In 2009, I  covered ‘Zo’s Summer Grove’—an annual fundraising event hosted by the former Miami Heat Center and Power Forward, Alonzo Mourning. I had a chance to have a brief chat with the American actress Gabrielle Union, along with her husband, Miami Heat Point Guard, Dwyane Wade. I remember briefly telling her about my fight against child sexual abuse in my community through Word and Action, Inc.—a non-profit organization that I co-founded in 2009. Union has revealed for the first time on the talk show ‘The View’, that she was raped when she was 19 years old.


I have had a similar brief conversation with the Haitian American actress, Garcelle Bauvais, whom I met during the Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in Miami. I found myself having the same exchange with the Zimbabwean-American actress of the movie, “Black Panther,” Danai Gurira, whom I met in Orlando the same year.

 



Gabrielle Union & Georges Bossous, Jr. / Copyright: Unveil Magazine

I tend to engage influential people because I believe that one of the best ways to fight against sexual abuse is to openly talk about it. As a society, we must have more serious conversations about such an ‘epidemic’ that is affecting countless people. Therefore, borrowing the voice of celebrities, stakeholders, and other influential figures could tremendously help to curtail the occurrence of this appalling form of behavior.

 

While reading the CNN article, I started to reflect on the countless cases of young women being physically, psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abused by powerful men in my homeland, Haiti. The number of women who are suffering in silence is staggering. For instance, Ginoue Mondésir—a young TV host and actress was murdered in 2005 by her boyfriend, Valdo Jean. The young actress was only 28 years old.

 

Not too long ago on October 2018, gruesome pictures of the actual mayor of Tabarre, metropolitan area Port-au-Prince, Nice Simon being brutalized by her partner, Yves Léonard went viral. In an article by France 24, Simon said, "He was choking me and slapping me, punching my head. I thought I was going to die."


Multiple stories of women being sexually assaulted by powerful government officials and affluent individuals are prevalent in Haiti. In 2022, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, and Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim (Commission of Women Victims for Victims) have submitted an elaborated report on gender-based violence in Haiti to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In that report these organizations stated, “There are numerous allegations of sexual harassment against women and girls involving high-profile government officials and prominent public figures.” For instance, an AlterPress article published in 2022 reported that about twenty organizations have “denounced a conference-debate, announced around a book by National Palace Secretary, M. Josué Pierre-Louis, accused of sexist and sexual attacks against women working under his authority,”—allegations that Pierre-Louis has rejected. The aforementioned report echoed, “Teachers will sometimes assert that girls failed examinations in order to pressure them into sexual relationships.”


Furthermore, the story of the former president of Haiti’s football federation, Dr. Yves Jean-Bart, who was accused of sexual abuse is still fresh in our collective memory. In the report submitted to the UNHRC it was stated, “In 2020 the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) imposed a lifetime ban on the former head of the Haitian Football Federation for the rape and sexual assault of at least 14 players, some of whom were under 18.” Jean-Bart was later “cleared of sexual abuse allegations by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” (Crane, 2023). Later on, the governing body released a statement, “After having carefully analysed the CAS award, FIFA is concerned that this award contains a number of very serious procedural and substantive flaws, including the CAS Panel's failure to evaluate key pieces of evidence that were offered by FIFA,” (Crane, 2023). As stated in the submitted report to the UNHRC, “The abuse of unequal power is especially difficult to address in situations where the adolescents are no longer minors.”

 

The cases of powerful men exerting power to inflict sexual assault unto people in lesser positions, seems to be an endless exercise, both in Haiti and in the United States. For instance, I had the opportunity to talk to Claude-Alix Bertrand,Haitian ambassador to UNESCO and captain of Haiti’s national polo team. Bertrand talked to me about his ordeal pertaining to sexual abuse. He openly detailed how he was sexually abused when he was 11 years old by a very powerful man who was his coach while attending Saint-Louis de Gonzague—a very prominent Catholic school in Haiti. When Bertrand courageously went public about his sexual abuse by Evans Lescouflair, it was like a multitone bomb that spread fire throughout Haiti as well as the Haitian diaspora. Lescouflair served in several posts at Haiti’s Ministry of Youth, Sports and Civic Action between 2008 and 2011. He was one of the most influential figures in the Haitian society. There have been several allegations of other boys being sexually abused by the former Haitian Minister of Sport.

 

When people’s rights are being violated, the natural inclination is to seek justice. However, this may be “un vœu pieux” (a wishful thinking) in Haiti. For instance, I remember talking to a friend about my work pertaining to child sexual abuse prevention. Halfway through our conversation, she started to tear up while explaining how she was raped by a judge in ‘La Cour de Cassation’—Haiti’s Supreme Court. Another friend confided in me that she was sexually molested by a judge while sitting in his office discussing a legal matter. When pressed about why she did not say anything, “I could not say anything Georges because he can easily put me in jail and there is nothing I could do about it,” she replied.

 

The Haitian judicial is system is one of the most corrupted in the region, as a result victims are less likely to report their abuse or seek justice. I personally talked to numbers of people being sexually abused by very powerful figures. Almost all of those victims have never even thought of pressing charges against their abusers.

 

Countless women in the Haitian affluent class that commonly referred to as ‘Bourgeoisie,’ are silently enduring the evil of sexual assault as well. During my work with Word and Action Haiti, I have encountered many well-to-do women who have disclosed their ordeals related to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Many of them are forced into silence, fearing either being disowned by their families or rejected by their social class. Financial co-dependence may be another major factor as well.  In addition, some families may be more concerned about the scandal rather than the wellbeing of the victims. 

 

Those facts are highlighted to present a more accurate picture of our society as a whole. Sadly, it is a common, yet erroneous belief that sexual assaults are more frequent in the lower echelons of our society. Sexual abuse or gender-based violence occurs across the social spectrum regardless of financial status. Sexual assault or all other forms of abuse do not know social class, gender, religion, ethnicity or nationality. It is an epidemic that every society must forcefully combat. As I always emphasize during my workshops and trainings as a mental health professional, ‘One of the biggest weapons against sexual abuse is to speak up—never ever stay silent when facing such an ordeal.’ You are not alone!

 

 

 

References:


BAI, IJDH & KOFAVIV (2022). Gender-Based Violence in Haiti. Retrieved from


Crane, J. (2023). FIFA appeals Yves Jean-Bart ruling. Retrieved from


Fowler, B. (2017). Chris Brown Recounts His Violent Treatment of Rihanna in New


France 24 (n.d.). Haitian mayor and actress speaks out on domestic violence


Gonzalez, S. & Wagmeister, E., CNN (2024). Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs says he is ‘truly sorry’ for

physically assaulting Cassie Ventura in 2016. Retrieved from  https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/17/entertainment/sean-combs-cassie-ventura


Jean, M. (2022). Haïti-France : Des organisations féministes et de droits humains exigent

l’annulation d’une conférence-débats de Josué Pierre-Louis à l’Unesco. Retrieved fromhttps://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php?article28422


Vardy, E. (2024). Diddy assault video cements fall of hip-hop icon. Retrieved from

 

 

*Georges Bossous, Jr. is a Psychotherapist.  He is the Founder/CEO of Word and Action, Inc. and Co-founder/President the Haitian American Leadership Initiative.

 

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