Women, girls rape victims in Haiti quake aftermath
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – When the young woman needed to use the toilet, she went out into the darkened tent camp and was attacked by three men.
“They grabbed me, put their hands over my mouth and then the three of them took turns,” the slender 21-year-old said, wriggling with discomfort as she nursed her baby girl, born three days before Haiti’s devastating quake.
“I am so ashamed. We’re scared people will find out and shun us,” said the woman, who suffers from abdominal pain and itching, likely from an infection contracted during the attack.
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.
The 21-year-old said her family has received no food aid because the Haitian men handing out coupons for food distribution demand sexual favors.
Sex-for-food is not uncommon in the camps, said a report issued Tuesday by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development in Haiti. “In particular, young girls have to negotiate sexually in order to get shelter from the rains and access to food aid.”