Absorbing a Journalist’s Trauma


Haiti post earthquake 

CAUTION: If you prefer not to read graphic descriptions of rape, you may not want to continue reading this piece.  

Correspondent Mac McClelland offers no such precaution to her readers in the opening sentences of her article in Good (June 27, 2011):

It was my research editor who told me it was completely nuts to willingly get fucked at gunpoint. That’s what she called me when I told her the story. We were drunk and in a karaoke bar, so at the time I came up with only a wounded face and a whiny, “I’m not completely nuuuuts!”

It’s an interesting approach on McClelland’s part, shocking the reader with an immediate brutal image, a literary rape of sorts, and at the same time subverting the violence with a flippantly chick-lit-esque tone.

Author of the 2010 book For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question: A Story from Burma’s Never-Ending War, McClelland oscillates between the two poles—brutality and cheekiness—throughout the rest of her article. The subject is by no means frivolous. She’s writing about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in journalists, specifically her own. “As a journalist who covers human rights,” she writes, “I spend a lot of time absorbing other people’s trauma.”

After bearing witness to the paroxysmal breakdown of a Haitian rape victim named Sybille, McClelland experiences months of uncontrollable crying and what she calls “rapemares.” Any sexual thought led to violent thought: “I could not process the thought of sex without violence. And it was easier to picture violence I controlled than the abominable nonconsensual things that had happened to Sybille.” Thus the willingness to have sex at gunpoint.

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