Female survivors of Haiti’s devastating earthquake are increasingly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence, the New York Times reports. With most of the country’s police and judicial infrastructure reduced to ruins by the January 12th disaster – which also rendered millions of Hatian citizens homeless – sexual violence is emerging as yet another acute risk faced by Haitian women navigating the crisis and its aftermath.
Both local non-government organizations and the major international relief groups which run Haiti’s tent-city encampments have expressed alarm over pervasive camp insecurity leading to increasing incidents of rape. With the state apparatus all but destroyed in the quake, residents of Haiti’s tent cities are dependant on humanitarian organizations for basic necessities and international peace keepers for a modicum of security. But with millions of people forced to take shelter in 1,200 temporary encampments across the country, humanitarian need far outstrips capacity.
Additionally, camp conditions create an environment where female residents are particularly vulnerability to sexual violence. The densely populated, makeshift network of tents and tarpaulins allows for virtually no privacy or sense of security, and the situation is exacerbated by the escape of thousands of criminals from the Port-au-Prince prison in the aftermath of the quake. Even when moving indoors is an option, many Haitians remain too traumatized to do so.
The director of Kofaviv, a Haitian non-profit dedicated to helping rape victims, describes an environment where “insecurity and despair feed on each other”, producing heightened risks for displaced and vulnerable women. Indeed, Kofaviv caseworkers report a threefold increase in rape victims seeking counseling from a year ago and note that most cases of rape go unreported. Rape is not the only threats to camp residents’ security – kidnappings for ransom, although still rare, are on the rise, as are other forms of violent crime. Buttressed by an increased UN peacekeeper presence, including 100 Bangladeshi policewomen with rape-prevention training, security in the large, internationally-run camps has recently improved. Some rape survivors are able to access victims’ services through medical organizations such as Médecins sans Frontières. Overall, however, the situation remains dire, and Amnesty International reports a sense of abandonment and desperation among displaced people that has only increased in the months since the quake.