Post-quake chaos fuels rape in Haiti - survey

by Olesya Dmitracova | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 January 2011 10:30 GMT
Flimsy camps and breakdown in law and order put women more at risk of sexual violence, says Amnesty International

LONDON (AlertNet) – Haitian women are more at risk of sexual violence because of the breakdown of law and order and the spread of flimsy camps after last January's earthquake, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Local women's groups have documented hundreds of rapes of women and girls since the disaster, but many believe reported cases represent only a fraction of the real number, Amnesty said in a report on survey findings.

The story of one woman who spoke to the human rights organisation is typical. She told Amnesty she was gang-raped by three armed men while sleeping under a tarpaulin. She fled her town after the attack.

"I lost everything in the earthquake... I had to send my daughters away to protect them from sexual violence. It would have been better to die under the rubble than to be exposed to this," she is quoted as saying.

British-based Amnesty International interviewed more than 50 women and girls in Haiti in March and June.

The Jan. 12 earthquake killed a quarter of a million people, and 1.3 million made homeless by the quake are still living in makeshift camps, under tents, tarps and blankets.

Sexual violence was widespread in Haiti before January 2010, but it has been exacerbated by the destruction of the police force and court houses, Amnesty said.

"There is no security for the women and girls in the camps... Armed gangs attack at will, safe in the knowledge that there is still little prospect that they will be brought to justice," it said.

One Haitian women's organisation, KOFAVIV, recorded at least 242 rapes between last January and June. Another, SOFA, reported 114 cases over the same period. And more reports continue to come in.

"There is anecdotal evidence that sexual violence is increasing," said Gerardo Ducos, a Haiti researcher at Amnesty. "What's certain is that the risk of sexual violence has increased."

Authorities in Haiti have said they are working to prevent an upsurge in rapes and gang-driven crime, fuelled by the escape of hundreds of convicts, including murderers and gang leaders during the quake.

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