Haiti, Violated

"At night, you could hear the women screaming." This was how Aleda Frishman, executive director of the women's advocacy group We Advance, described the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, over a year ago. Her voice was quiet as she said this, and her face became very still. Rape immediately was rampant in the camps that sprang up around Port-au-Prince. Some experts have called it an "epidemic," and many believe that most of the perpetrators are among the 4,000 prisoners who escaped after the quake. And, the problem has not gone away.

The harrowing evidence is chronicled by Clancy Nolan for the World Policy Institute:

"Non-profits and aid agencies have produced reams of reports about the epidemic of rape in post-earthquake Haiti. Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, UNICEF and others have sent researchers and lawyers to Haiti’s sprawling tent cities to investigate. Like similar reports from conflict zones such as Darfur, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they return with horrendous stories: two-year-old rape victims, 70-year-old rape victims, men slashing their way through tents with box cutters and raping daughters before their mothers’ eyes. Last summer, part of a woman’s tongue was bitten off during an attack in a Port-au-Prince camp.

'In whatever situation—whether it’s a cyclone or a coup d’état—out of all these disasters the first people to feel a backlash is women,' says Sandy François of the Women’s Ministry."

Frishman, who was featured in Episode 4 of our Haiti series, tells Nolan about a four-year-old victim and says, "“Of the rapes that I know about personally—meaning I have spoken with the family, seen the victims—none of those have entered the legal system."

One reason is the virtual lack of a legal system. Nolan writes, "Since the quake, the sexual-assault database has not been used. Many of the police officers trained in gender-based violence procedures died during the quake, as did the founders of prominent women’s rights organizations. And, like most government agencies—including the Police Nationale d’Haïti—the Women’s Ministry is still largely operating out of temporary trailers in its front yard."