This whole summer, the section I have worked the longest and the hardest on is Who We’ve Helped. Today it includes 20 of our clients’ stories. With the help of the staff and attorneys at my internship, I wrote and re-wrote more than 25 stories (we did not use all of them). Writing about FGM and torture and spousal abuse hurts–but creating clear stories satisfies me. Below are some of my strongest prose.
(Some terrible things have happened to the clients of Human Rights USA. I wrote about those things. Abuse, children threatened, political violence, and torture):
Even after the family’s relocation, their house was arbitrarily searched by the police, they received death threats in the mail, and Blerina’s father was beaten in the street by members of another political party. One beating left him nearly dead. Local farmers found him bruised and bloodied and rushed him to the hospital. When ten-year-old Blerina saw him laying in the hospital bed, she feared for his life.
Imani’s story is told on her body: a scar on her ear, where her husband nearly tore it off with a slamming door; jagged gouges in her back where her husband pushed her onto a heap of broken glass; a deep, gnawing bite-mark on her wrist—her husband’s response when she told him she was too ill to have sex. Her story is written most clearly on her face: lines of grief for 23 years of torture and sexual abuse, fear for her two children left in the house of her abuser and their father in Cameroon, worry about starting a new life in the United States.
Kinah made the brave and dangerous choice to oppose her society’s traditional practice of genital stretching and cutting, and when her opposition was ignored and her personal sanctity violated, she sought protection in the United States.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision that the threat of FGM provided a basis for protection under the Convention Against Torture, even for mothers whose deportation threatens their daughters with this practice:
“The [U.S.] government could never do to these girls in this country what the INS seems all too willing to allow to happen to them in Nigeria.” 314 F.3d 303, 310 (7th Cir. 2002). Since then, other courts have recognized FGM as torture.
Rep. Lantos […] told CEO Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan to “beg forgiveness” from the families of the detainees. Both men turned and bowed to the women, and publicly apologized. One week later, Yahoo! and the families settled the lawsuit.
I am proud of these passages because they were difficult to write. I had to find an elegant way to represent horrific facts without revealing details which could identify our clients. I had to paint a picture of strength through torment, I had to show how each woman and man’s choices made sense, and I wanted to show how something good would come out of each story. Note that all of these names are pseudonyms.
“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”–Atticus Finch, Chapter 23