Haiti: Report Reveals Increased Sexual Violence in Post-Earthquake Camps
Monday, August 16, 2010 11:20 AM

The women’s rights group MADRE released a report in July 2010 that examines the rise in sexual violence in Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake. The report, entitled Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape, was compiled in conjunction with TransAfrica Forum, the University of Minnesota Law School, the University of Virginia Law School and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
The report indicates that though there is a lack of official statistics, gender-based violence has increased since the earthquake. Within Haiti’s camps, where over one million Haitians are residing in tents and tarps, cases of sexual violence are believed to be underreported, largely as a result of the stigma attached to sexual assault and the belief that authorities will not take action. 
Doctors Without Borders recorded 212 incidents of sexual violence in the five months after the earthquake, while in just the first two months following the earthquake, Kofaviv, a grassroots organization founded by Haitian rape survivors, reported 230 rapes in 15 Port-au-Prince camps. 
In interviews with over 50 women survivors of rape or attempted rape, members of the report’s delegation found that most women were assaulted at night by two or more armed men. Factors increasing women’s vulnerability to sexual violence included little to no lighting; a lack of privacy, including within restroom and bathing facilities; an inadequate security and police presence; overcrowding; and destabilized familial and community support systems.
The report also found the Haitian government’s response to the problem of sexual violence within camps to be inadequate. Lisa Davis, the human rights advocacy director of MADRE, noted that the government’s management of the situation is the result of “a combination of the lack of political will to address the issue and the lack of government capacity, including funds and resources, to deal with the problem.” Rape was not criminalized in Haiti until 2005 and many Haitians, including some government officials, still believe that sexual violence is caused by promiscuous women, an additional factor contributing to many survivors’ reluctance to report sexual violence.
As a part of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), one hundred Bangladeshi policewoman were stationed in Haiti in June to address sexual violence in Haiti’s largest camps and assist with community policing. However, Davis notes that MINUSTAH and local police do not often patrol within the camps at night, and has urged Haiti’s government to train additional police to handle cases of sexual violence, employ greater numbers of female police officers, and investigate crimes of gender-based violence. 
To address the lack of security within camps at night, Kofaviv organizes bathroom escorts for women and, with other organizations, has distributed whistles, flashlights, and solar lanterns. Other camps have coordinated informal security patrols to supplement inadequate police protection.