Sexual violence in Haiti’s displacement camps still ‘rampant’ says new report

(WNN) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: In a combined effort to get vital information out to the public covering ongoing conditions for women and girls’ safety in Haiti on the second anniversary of the crisis that hit the region causing over 608,000 people to become homeless, human rights advocacy group for women – MADRE – has teamed up with on-the-ground legal experts and women’s advocates in Haiti to release a new report, Struggling to Survive: Sexual Exploitation of Displaced Women and Girls in Port au Prince, Haiti.

According to numbers reported by the IFRC – International Federation of Red Cross, nearly half a million people are still living in tent cities in Haiti today; a situation that marks women and girls as ‘compromised’ victims in a continuing crisis of violence that plagues camps that are set as the only homes for those who were forced to leave crumbling structures following the earthquake.

Recent interviews conducted with displaced girls and women, ranging from 13 to 30-year old girls and women who have been impacted by hardship and violence in the camps following the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, makes up some of the most compelling findings in the report.

“Women and girls in Haiti’s dangerous displacement camps are still routinely targeted with sexual violence. Vulnerability to rape is the result of conditions in the camps that have barely improved since the earthquake,” said Ms. Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, in a recent one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network. “The dangers stem from lack of lighting, lack of security, lack of shelter and the fact that family and social networks that once offered protection were destroyed in the disaster. Underlying all of these conditions is life-threatening discrimination of women that results in rape and sexual abuse,” she continued.

Teaming up with the release of the report is the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY School of Law, the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, NYU Global Justice Clinic under the guidance of local Haitian women’s advocates KOFAVIV – The Commission of Women Victims for Victims in Haiti, along with MADRE.

The findings are overwhelming and eye-opening. Following the “wake of the earthquake , Haiti experienced an alarming increase in gender-based violence and an increase in sexual exploitation, particularly of those living in IDP camps.”

“A social science researcher has recently found a staggering twenty-two percent of IDPs and two percent of general community members have been victims of sexual assault [in Port-au-Prince],” continues the report.

The combined effort by advocacy agencies outlines some of the causes to why women and girls displaced in Haiti have suffered from violence under impunity. Extreme poverty that existed before and after the massive destruction of homes during the earthquake is a large contributing factor. To investigate the problems of sexual exploitation in Haiti, “Struggling to Survive,” attempts to answer the question: How did conditions on the ground grow into such large crisis conditions so quickly for women and girls.

“Haiti has signed many international treaties but the government has not been respecting them. It’s almost as if these treaties were stuffed into drawers and forgotten,” said KOFAVIV co-founder and sexual assault survivor, Earamithe Delva. “But through our advocacy work, we want to put these treaties back on the table, get the discussion going around them so that all the protections of women and girls can be applied.”

Through interviews with those who suffered inside the camps the report documents how women and girls tried to survive as local Haitian officials did not ‘do enough’ immediately to stop sexual attacks where knowledge of nightly rapes was the norm. It also highlights the conditions of widespread sexual exploitation – known as survival sex – in the camps.

“Survival sex” is defined here as the exchange of sex in circumstances where those exchanging sex for survival lack other options,” outlines the report. Survival sex is something which forced on girls and women who are in extreme compromised positions where they began to have sex in exchange for food, favours, money or protection from danger, especially from even greater violence in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

Sexual exploitation in times of crisis is not a new phenomenon in any part of the globe, “Struggling to Survive” highlights human rights restrictions and vulnerability of women and girls who have worked through severe natural disaster to survive. It also explores any solution that can be found now among the rubble.

“Women and girls are vulnerable at all phases of conflict or natural disasters,” said the UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund in 2002 programme brief.

In absence of proper security patrols in the IDP camps crisis in the Port-au-Prince accelerated as violence, rape and child prostitution became what the report terms as “rampant.”

(To read full article, visit this Women's News Network link)

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