After all they’ve already been through, women and children in Haiti are in serious danger of being raped — even gang raped — because there is little to no protection in the dangerous tent camps. Details on the flipside.
Women and children as young as 2, already traumatized by the loss of homes and loved ones in the Jan. 12 catastrophe, are now falling victim to rapists in the sprawling tent cities that have become home to hundreds of thousands of people. With no lighting and no security, they are menacing places after sunset. Sexual assaults are daily occurrences in the biggest camps, aid workers say — and most attacks go unreported because of the shame, social stigma and fear of reprisals from attackers.
Rape was a big problem in Haiti even before the earthquake and frequently was used as a political weapon in times of upheaval. Both times the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted, his enemies assassinated his male supporters and raped their wives and daughters.
But the quake that killed an estimated 200,000 people has made women and girls ever more vulnerable. They have lost their homes and are forced to sleep in flimsy tents or tarp-covered lean-tos. They’ve lost male protection with the deaths of husbands, brothers and sons. And they are living in close quarters with strangers.
In one camp, some 47,000 people live crowded into what used to be a sports ground in a neighborhood that always has been dangerous. Residents include a dozen escaped prisoners, among them a man accused of a notorious murder, according to Fritznel Pierre, a human rights advocate who lives at the camp.
“But nobody says anything because they’re scared, scared of the criminals and scared of the police,” he said. Pierre complained that the U.N. patrols are ineffective. “They only drive their cars down the one road that covers only a small portion of the camp. They never get out of their cars,” he said.
“For me it seems completely bizarre that for this one camp that everyone knows is unsafe, it’s taken them three weeks to get a patrol going,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the agency’s women’s rights division. “It’s unrealistic to expect patrols in camps all the time, but I think they can identify hotspots and provide security to those spots.”
In the hilltop suburb of Petionville, where plush mansions look out over slums on hillsides and in ravines, a 7-year-old rape victim was being treated Monday in the hospital of a tent camp set up on a golf course. Another child, a 2-year-old, had been raped in the same camp two weeks earlier.
The toddler is taking antibiotics for a gonorrhea infection of the mouth, according to Alison Thompson, who is the volunteer medical coordinator for a Haitian relief group created by Sean Penn. She helped treat both children.
“Women aren’t being protected,” Thompson said. “So when the lights go down is when the rapes increase, and it’s happening daily in all the camps in Port-au-Prince.”
Besides sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, victims face possible HIV infection. Haiti has the highest infection rate for the virus that causes AIDS in the Western hemisphere, with one in 50 people infected.
Few rapes are reported because women often face humiliating scrutiny from police officers who suggest they invited the attacks and even nurses who contend young girls were “too hot” in their dress style, according to Delva Marie Eramithe, a leader of KOFAVIV, a group of Haitian women who survived political rapes in 2004.
Eramithe said, “One policeman said they had received reports of nothing but raping, thefts and domestic beatings all day and there’s nothing they can do. The other police officer said the only person who can do anything is President (Rene) Preval.”
“We are aware of problem … but it’s not a priority,” Information Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said last month.
What kind of fu*kery is this??? Seriously!!! If you aren’t irate about this issue there is seriously something wrong. Children as young as two being raped??? Infected with sexually transmitted diseases before they are even out of diapers??? Teenage virgins gang raped by three men at a time??? What has happened to humanity? And how dare the Information Minister say this isn’t a priority! This is a damned shame.