Victims' Rights Caucus

Articles


Sexual Assaults Add to Miseries of Haitis Ruins
By DEBORAH SONTAG, New York Times

The 22-year-old woman, wearing a gauzy blue dress that she had changed into after her release, spoke in a whispery voice.

Perhaps the worst part of the whole ordeal, she said, was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.

But stashing her in the ruins of a home? Making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.

Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe, said the woman, Rose, who requested that her full name be withheld.

Roses kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a womens health clinic at the familys request.

Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others misery.

So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or womens groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and the threat is constant, said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.

Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.

Its an ideal climate for rape, she said.

Ms. Villard said that Kofavivs two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.

Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent mens and womens showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.

Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this citys battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.

Rose and her relatives recently moved back to their properties when the owner of the property where they were squatting threatened the tent city residents with eviction. Their homes have been marked with a yellow stamp by surveyors, meaning they are damaged but fixable. Rose and her relatives sleep outside them, fitfully. They were scared of the young thugs in Mafia sunglasses, Roses cousin said, even before Roses abduction.

On May 10, Rose, a statuesque woman who is learning to be a beautician, went out to buy some cookies. A police officer whom she knew beckoned her to sit in his unmarked car, she said