In the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake, women and girls are still facing gender violence, as some of them not only experience rape, but then have to face an absent judicial system and less than adequate medical care.
Tent-City by Edyta Materka under a Creative Commons Attribution License.
In the Ms. Magazine Blog, Gina Ulysse wrote Rape a Part of Daily Life for Women in Haitian Relief Camps, where she points towards the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)and Madre‘s Report on Rape in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps as the source of terrifying statistics on gender violence.
Many women and girls have lost their support network as well as fathers, brothers and husbands or boyfriends who might've been able to protect them. So being in cramped quarters in the camps really cuts down on their privacy, many have to shower in public and sleep next to strangers or in locations where they are vulnerable to attacks. Once the attacks take place, many of the cases being gang rapes, they have yet to face more ordeals: most have no way to receive medical aid from female practitioners and the justice system is almost non-existent, leaving them to deal with corruption in the police and revictimization from authorities in addition to the stigma from being attacked and the knowledge that their attackers are still at large. Ulysse writes:
Women’s access to justice has been even worse. Women who reported rapes–and were already struggling with stigmatization and the psychological effects of sexual assault–were often mocked or ignored by police. In some instances, these women have had to deal with police corruption as well. Moreover, cases have not been prosecuted by the Haitian judicial system. Survivors remain vulnerable since they continue to live in the same areas of the camps where they were attacked and their rapists remain at large. Several women reported that they’ve been raped on different occasions since the quake.
The IJDH, Partners in Health and New Media Advocacy Program released a video a few months ago with testimonies from the victims. The footage was recorded by Sandy Berkowitz and edited by Harriet Hirshorn.
Even though women struggle to return to normalcy, it is unlikely their situation will improve as the temporary camps seem to be turning into permanent accomodations. Back in January, CARE USA interviewed Dr. Franck Geneus who coordinates CARE's health program in Haiti and asked him about the reasons why there is higher risk of rape in these camps, and he mentioned the characteristics that make the IDP camps a fertile ground for attacks: the lack of electricity that makes camps absolutely dark at night, badly organized camps and non-segregated bathing facilities and latrines so that males and females have their own.
Janet Meyers, Gender Advisor from CARE also put in her own 2 cents regarding how the camps would be established to make women safer in the earthquake aftermath, pointing out many of the same issues last February. I wonder how many of these issues remain unresolved and if, as these camps turn into more permanent facilities, it will just pave the way for more assaults to take place.
Because women and children are the most vulnerable members of a society, they usually are the first ones to suffer abuses in the absence of a judicial system. Those who are supposed to protect them have perished in the earthquake. These beautiful souls are now left all alone to fend for themselves. It’s a horrible state of affair. These women are suffering enough already; they should not have to worry about rape or any other violations upon them.
At this time, everyone should gather together in a joint effort to love, protect and care for one another. The men should protect these innocent women in light of what they are now facing. I know everyone’s going through a hard time right now. Sometimes, tough times can weaken the human spirit but they can also shine the human spirit. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to lose our human dignity. We should protect those who are weaker. It’s a matter of human compassion. If we allow our spirits to shine, we would be able to easily conquer our overwhelming odds. So, let’s do the right thing.