One Year Later, Sexual Violence Remains an Epidemic in Haiti’s Camps

Trigger Warning for descriptions/discussions of sexual violence

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. In the wake of this milestone, much reporting has appeared on the current status of the earthquake recovery, and how it is sorely lagging behind everyone’s hopes, as well as what the expectations would be for richer countries. Less frequently discussed is how women are being specifically impacted by the lack of reconstruction.

Last year, I wrote about the huge spike in sexual violence against women following the earthquake. Sadly if unsurprisingly, seeing the slow pace of other changes, this situation has seen little improvement. And since the same story every day doesn’t fit the model of the dominant news cycle, the dire circumstances are largely going ignored.

Last week, Amnesty International released a report on this very topic, titled Aftershocks: Women Speak Out Against Sexual Violence in Haiti’s Camps (.pdf). As implied by the title, the report consists largely of women sharing their stories of sexual violence. From the press release:

One 14 year old girl, Machou, lives in a makeshift camp for displaced people in Carrefour Feuilles, south-west Port-au-Prince. She was raped in March when she went to the toilet.

“A boy came in after me and opened the door. He gagged me with his hand and did what he wanted to do…He hit me. He punched me. I didn’t go to the police because I don’t know the boy, it wouldn’t help. I feel really sad all the time…I’m afraid it will happen again,” Machou told Amnesty International.

One woman, Suzie, recounted how she was living in a makeshift shelter with her two sons and a friend when they were attacked around 1am on 8 May.  Suzie and her friend were both blindfolded and raped in front of their children by a gang of men who forced their way into their shelter.

“After they left I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any reaction…Women victims of rape should go to hospital but I didn’t because I didn’t have any money… I don’t know where there is a clinic offering treatment for victims of violence,” Suzie said.

Suzie lost her parents, brothers and husband in the January earthquake. Her home was also destroyed.

Many women in Haiti — those who are currently among the most marginalized and vulnerable across the board — are living multiple horrors at once. On top of the trauma of the earthquake itself and the many deaths and injuries it caused, on top of the trauma of homelessness or near-homelessness and fear for one’s ongoing ability to access food and water, on top of an epidemic of cholera, large numbers of women in Haiti’s camps are also facing the trauma of sexual violence. And virtually all women in the camps are living with the trauma of the daily, persistent, and very real threat of sexual violence.

A vast majority of the assaults are never reported, for various reasons: fear of retaliation from their attackers, lack of knowledge about how to report, lack of faith in the legal system, and even refusal by officers to accept their reports. Few also go to hospitals after the attacks — there are many barriers to access — and there is little emotional support to help survivors in the aftermath of their assaults. With infrastructure at a bare minimum, too many survivors are going it alone.

Though no level of economic, political, and/or social instability cause rape on its own — the cultural structures of kyriarchy must already be in place to make sexual violence exist as a viable and desirable option — there is no doubt that the increase in rates of rape are directly connected to the overall conditions presented by the earthquake’s aftermath. Creating greater stability and sustainability — adequate housing, working toilets, sufficient food, access to clean water, ongoing sources of income — won’t stop rape in Haiti anymore than it has stopped rape in any community that does have access to these basic necessities. But it would take the edge off of the current crisis. And the people of Haiti, women included, deserve these things whether they impact the prevalence of sexual violence or not, for the basic reason that they’re human rights.

I would also be extraordinarily remiss if I failed to note the historical background behind the devastation that the earthquake has wrought. Under different circumstances where Haiti had not been so poor prior to the earthquake, the damage would not have been nearly so severe. The ongoing recovery efforts would also not be lagging so far behind; the cholera outbreak would have most likely never happened. And Haiti’s poverty has direct roots in the history of colonization and economic racism by numerous rich Western countries, including the U.S. Those nations have a direct culpability for this tragedy, and therefore for the increase in rapes as well. It is hardly a stretch to say that we (as those culpable nations) have not done better in responding as a result of ongoing economic racism and colonialist attitudes towards poor nations made up mostly of black people. Every day, that culpability only increases, as women are raped and people die.

The one spark of good news is that local activists have been organizing. In their report, Amnesty International mentions two of them specifically: the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV) and Women Victims Arise (FAVILEK). These organizations are providing support to survivors of sexual violence and working to end the assaults. FAVILEK has a website, including an address to which you can send a check donation. KOFAVIV can be found on their Facebook page. They have not directly responded to requests for information about how to donate, but users have suggested giving to their partner IJDH and including a note requesting that the funds go to KOFAVIV. If you have the means to do so, please consider supporting the amazing work these women are doing.

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