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Mac McClelland on PTSD, Haiti and Women Writing About Sex

Human rights reporter Mac McClelland knew there would be controversy when she published her piece "I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease my PTSD."

Human rights reporter Mac McClelland knew there would be controversy when she published her incredibly personal narrative last week, “ I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease my PTSD.”

“There’s a reason I almost threw up when this piece went live,” said McClelland, in an interview with the Ms. Blog. McClelland is disarmingly upfront and candid; the same signature authentic voice infused in her writing.

Appearing in GOOD’s online magazine, the essay details her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder after reporting in Haiti, bearing witness to horrific stories from rape victims and being threatened herself with sexual violence. Returning home, she and her therapist came to the conclusion that a way to move past her trauma was to have a violent–but controlled–sexual experience. Through therapy and a bedroom battle with an old boyfriend, McClelland found relief from the PTSD, and a way to bravely share her story with readers.

Most of the responses have been positive,  thanking McClelland for speaking about the under-discussed issue of PTSD. In the wake of TV journalist  Lara Logan’s rape, her address of the physical and emotional dangers to women journalists couldn’t be timelier. But she began to receive criticism as the week progressed, particularly for her portrayal of Haiti.

“There’s some sort of ridiculous Twitter war about whether I’m an insane racist narcissist who’s unfit to do my job,” said McClelland.

In Slate’s XX Factor story, “ Mac McClelland: What’s Happening in Haiti Is Not About You,” for example, Marjorie Valbrun claimed that McClelland took a self-centric approach to Haiti’s plight. And 36 women journalists who have worked in Haiti wrote an  open letter to GOOD saying, “We believe the way she uses Haiti as a backdrop for this narrative is sensationalist and irresponsible.”

Ms. spoke with McClelland, first about her response to the firestorm.

What is your reaction to the recent criticism?

Most discouraging is some of the stuff that these women are saying like, “If you can’t handle your shit go home. I work in Haiti and I never got PTSD.” Is it not valid for me to be upset, [having] been threatened with rape and seen someone else go through some extreme trauma [regarding rape]? People are saying I have a long history of mental illness. I have no idea what that’s based on.

It’s not an article, it’s an essay. I wrote a cover story [for  Mother Jones]that was my Haiti coverage. This was not my Haiti coverage; this was about me. In terms of the depiction of Haiti, none of those other journalists are denying that Haiti has a serious, serious rape problem. There are a lot of guns in Haiti–that is also true. And that’s pretty much the only thing I say about Haiti, other than my personal experience there with a couple of unfortunate and predatory men.

I knew that something was going to happen. I just didn’t know that a  New York Times correspondent was going to be so ridiculous as to  suggest [on Twitter] that because I had sex with a [French] peacekeeper I am a geisha for the NGO-industrial complex.

Do you think the response is different because you are a woman?

Nobody would be slut-shaming me [if I were a man]. If I were a man, I wouldn’t have had a driver who had lied to me and cornered me and threatened me. That does happen [to men], but the chances of that are a lot less.

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