Why Mac McClelland's Piece About PTSD, Violent Sex, and Haiti Shouldn't Offend You

[Editor's Note: This post was written by Cindy Kok, IMOW's summer programs and exhibitions volunteer.]

Last week, reporter Mac McClelland wrote a piece for GOOD magazine about how violent sex helped her recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. McClelland describes how seeing the panic of a recovering rape victim in Haiti, compounded with years of witnessing other people’s trauma, triggered her own mental breakdown (after she found her usual coping methods unhelpful). When she returned to San Francisco, she was diagnosed with PTSD and recounts spending months “sobbing and heaving” at the slightest provocation.

Mac McClelland via Good Magazine

While still in Haiti, McClelland remembers constantly having “rape nightmares” and “daymares” and, when she returned to the states, “wincing when [she] thought about sex.” McClelland says that violent sex “wasn't a matter of recreation” for her but rather a way to recover and deal with “violence [she] controlled [rather] than the abominable nonconsensual things” she witnessed. With her “counterphobic approach,” as her therapist calls it, she eventually did begin to get well.

McClelland’s article has elicited a gamut of reactions from encouragement to empathy to revulsion. However, some took issue not with her self-prescribed method of recovery but rather with her portrayal of Haiti. In particular, a group of female journalists wrote an open letter on Jezebel condemning McClelland’s “sensationalist and irresponsible” use of Haiti as a backdrop. They accuse her of contributing to the “continual marginalization” of women in Haiti, where the threat of rape for them is “tragically high.”

Given the highly personal nature of McClelland’s story, it hardly seems fair for the letter writers to pit their own experiences of a safe and peaceful Haiti to the “ugly chaos” she experienced. As writer Roxane Gay, whose family is from Haiti, confirms with her mother, the guns and the disorder McClelland writes about are accurate. McClelland’s story may be accused of being one-sided, but as an example of a personal piece and not objective reporting, showing only one side—her side—is entirely reasonable.

McClelland breaks from the unspoken norm of silence for female journalists. Her unapologetic piece highlights the complexity of issues in Haiti and of sexuality in general. The reactions to her writing, however, may just encourage reporters, and all women, to maintain their silence on personal experiences of sexual violence.

I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD: Good Magazine
Female Journalists and Researchers Respond to Haiti PTSD Article: Jezebel
On Journalistic Malpractice, Mac McClelland and Haiti: Ansel Herz
Still With the Scarlet Letters: Roxane Gay