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28457: Hermantin(News)Teen graduates from a nightmare to hopes of bright future (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Teen graduates from a nightmare to hopes of bright future

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

June 10, 2006

She dreamed of coming to America to wear fancy clothes and visit the exciting places her adoptive family told her about when they visited Haiti. But when she was brought to the United States, she said, she lived a nightmare, enduring four years of slavery and sexual abuse.

Now 19-year-old Williathe Narcisse, once an anonymous victim whose story first made headlines seven years ago, is a young adult with hopes and dreams.

"I had a rough childhood, but I thank God I'm trying to make it now," Narcisse said in her first public comments on her ordeal.

Today, Narcisse will graduate from the Life Skills Center of Broward County with a high school diploma. As the salutatorian of her class, she has a four-year scholarship to study journalism and broadcasting at Broward Community College and Florida International University.

The Haitian orphan's ordeal came to light in 1999, when authorities raided Marie and Willy Pompee's Pembroke Pines house. Then 12, Narcisse told authorities she had been beaten, raped and forced to work as a maid, and as a sex slave for the Pompee's son, Willy Jr., then 20.

South Floridians knew her only as "W.N." or "Little Hope," as her sympathizers in Little Haiti liked to call her. But even as she celebrates her accomplishments, she says she can't forget her mother's sudden death and the early days as a child slave in Haiti; her desire to start a new life in America and the dashed hopes after she arrived; the nightly rape and the screams ignored by her captors. "I could be dead," she whispered, sitting in a dimly lit hallway at the Life Skills Center, a charter school in Plantation's Fashion Mall. "They could've done anything they wanted to me."

The case drew attention to the entrenched tradition of child slavery in Haiti where, according to some estimates, there are as many as 300,000 child slaves, called "restaveks." Restavek means "stay with" in Creole.

Marie and Willy Pompee Sr. were indicted on charges of harboring an alien. Police issued a warrant for the arrest of Willy Pompee Jr., saying they suspected he sexually abused the girl.

The father and son fled the United States, and only Marie Pompee stood trial. She pleaded guilty to harboring an alien and was sentenced to 6 months in prison.

During her trial, Marie Pompee apologized in court, saying she did not know about the sexual abuse and never meant for the girl to suffer. Her attorney, Martin Roth, said she never abused the child.

"My impression always was that Mrs. Pompee really loved the child and tried to do the best for her," Roth said in an interview Friday.

Today, Narcisse says she still has "a lot of anger and hatred. I'm trying to work on that."

Since the trial, Narcisse said she has lived in more than 20 different foster homes. She has been treated by five therapists and struggles daily to survive emotionally.

She said the saga began when she was 6 or 7 years old. Her dying mother, whose name she never learned to spell, put her in the care of the Pompee family. Narcisse said she found out later that her mother was an orphan whose brother sold her to members of the Pompee family as a child slave.

At first, Narcisse lived in Port-au-Prince with relatives of Willy and Marie Pompee, she said. She hardly went to school, and spent her childhood days washing dishes and clothes, and taking care of the family's children.

"I was the only person doing anything in the house," she said. "Everything I did had to be perfect."

The Pompees and their children, who by then were living in the United States, visited Haiti regularly, tantalizing Narcisse with tales of America. The little girl wanted to wear the fancy clothes that the Pompee children wore and visit the exciting places that they bragged about. So she was ecstatic in 1995 when the family sent for her to come to the United States.

Before leaving Haiti, a woman spent a month teaching her English and telling her what to say when questioned at the airport. The woman smuggled her through customs with a fake passport, Narcisse said.

After she arrived at Miami International Airport, the Pompees took her to their home in Miami Lakes. They later moved to Pembroke Pines. Narcisse said the life of servitude resumed at the Pompee home and their clothing factory in Hialeah.

When she didn't comply, Marie Pompee beat her with a switch that she brought from Haiti, Narcisse said. Once she tried to escape and police returned her to her captors. "I just wanted a different life, but it seemed like when I got here it just got worse," she said.

These days, Narcisse lives on her own in an efficiency apartment in Hollywood. She works part-time at Target, and interns at WEDR 99 JAMZ radio station.

Maestro Powell, the station's marketing director, said Narcisse began hanging around the station and Powell was so moved after learning about her life, he gave her an internship.

When Powell told her story to Cecile Barker, CEO of Sobe Entertainment in Miami, Barker offered her a four-year scholarship to any school of her choice. "Here was a young lady who had a lot of issues and if she was willing to stand up and fight, we felt somebody should be willing to help her," Powell said.

While Narcisse completed her coursework at Hallandale High School, she didn't graduate because she couldn't pass the FCAT, said Chantae Jackson, a family advocate at the Life Skills program.

She enrolled in the program last August and blossomed. "She's really come out of her shell," Jackson said. "She has a lot of aspiration." Jackson said Narcisse's FCAT scores improved, but she never passed because of test anxiety. The Broward School District granted a waiver because of her emotional disability, and today she will receive her diploma.

Narcisse hopes it leads to the life she always dreamed of. Along the way, she hopes to one day find the father she never knew. She only knows his name, Wilben Narcisse, from her birth certificate.

"I'm very proud of myself," she said. "I just wish my mom was here. But I know she's in heaven and she's proud."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2028.

Copyright  2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel