One year after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, women and girls staying in the country’s refugee camps live without adequate food, water, shelter and medical care. And when the darkness falls, the rapists come.
According to a report from Amnesty International, precarious living conditions and a lack of security in and around the camps have left thousands of women and girls as young as two vulnerable to sexual predators.
Many of these women lost their family and community connections in the quake along with all of their worldly possessions.
One widow named Guerline was forced to watch her 13-year-old daughter being gang raped by four men. “They told me that if I talked about it, they would kill me,” she told researchers. “They said that if I went to the police, they would shoot me dead.” That same night, Guerline was raped as well.
The Commission of Women Victims for Victims, a women’s group run by and for rape survivors from the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, registered 230 cases of sexual assault in 15 camps during the five months after the Jan. 12 quake. There are over 500 camps in the Haitian capital.
The vast majority of the women living in the camps who were interviewed reported being raped by two or more individuals. Most of those assaults occurred at night and by men who were armed.
Rapes are rarely reported to authorities because of the shame, social stigma and fear of reprisals from attackers, USA Today reported. The few brave women who have come forward to file a report with authorities were told that nothing could be done for them. Some police officers even demanded bribes to investigate the assaults, but the victims had no money.
Rape victims are also emotionally, spiritually and physically scarred by their attackers. Some become pregnant, suffer internal injuries or contract sexually transmitted diseases. Haiti has the highest infection rate for HIV in the Western hemisphere, with one in 50 people infected, The Associated Press reported.
In an effort to stem the tide of sexual assaults in Haiti’s refugee camps, human rights groups are urging the government and charitable organizations to improve lighting and security in the camps, increase the number of private bathing facilities and make a serious effort to prosecute rapists. Additional tents, a more visible police presence, self-defense courses and better information about medical treatment options are also suggested.