Haitian woman, already suffering severe conditions from the January 12 earthquake, which devastated the county, are increasingly becoming rape victims, according to an Associated Press report.
“They grabbed me, put their hands over my mouth and then the three of them took turns,” a 21-year-old Haitian woman said, according to the AP, as she moved in discomfort from itching likely caused by an infection contracted during the attack. “I am so ashamed. We’re scared people will find out and shun us.”
Even children as young as two are falling victim to rapists in the tent cities that have become the abodes of hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the 7.8 magnitude quake.
After dark, places in the sprawling country have become sinister due to limited lighting. Episodes of sexual assaults occur daily, according to aid workers, but most go unreported because of the shame, social stigma and fear of revenge from assailants.
Rape has always been an ongoing issue in Haiti even before the quake and was frequently used as a political weapon in times of upheaval. But the earthquake made many females vulnerable, as male relatives that usually would protect them in such circumstances died in the disaster. The women are also forced to live in close quarters with strangers.
According to residents, the neighborhood where the 21-year-old woman was raped has always been unsafe territory. Currently, some 47,000 people live cramped into what used to be a sports field. Residents include many escaped prisoners, among them, a man accused of murder.
“But nobody says anything because they’re scared, scared of the criminals and scared of the police,” human rights advocate Fritznel Pierre told the AP.
Pierre has documented three more gang rapes in the very same camp, including the rape of a 17-year-old girl who said she was a virgin before six men attacked her repeatedly. Human Rights Watch Investigators reported the rapes to the U.N. Then, two weeks following, the 21-year-old was gang-raped.
U.N. police officers began patrolling a week later. Still, Pierre complained the U.N. patrols are not effective. “They only drive their cars down the one road that covers only a small portion of the camp. They never get out of their cars,” he said.
According to police spokesman Gary Desrosiers, only 24 rapes have been reported to Haitian authorities this year. Some suspects were arrested, but many escaped after the collapse of the prison.
Signs of action came March 14, when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived and a band of female U.N. and Haitian police officers posted at the camp. According to Ban, the camps will be “safe and secure.”
Still, those who are the most vulnerable remain afraid.
“I have to find somewhere to sleep, near some people who might help me if there’s trouble, a victim told the AP. “It scares me, the way the men look at me, and they know I’m all alone.”