Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape
This report outlines evidence showing that the rape of women and girls dramatically increased in the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, especially in Internally Displace People (IDP) camps. In the first two months after the earthquake a grassroots women’s organisation reported 230 rapes in just fifteen IDP camps. The research featured in this report was largely carried out through interviews with over 50 survivors of rape from over 10 different camps. The research was carried out by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in collaboration of U.S lawyers, community researchers and women’s health specialists, to investigate the patterns and prevalence of rape and gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls in these camps in Port AU Prince, with the purpose of collecting evidence to potentially pursue legal cases.
The camps were found to be unsafe and overcrowded with a lack of lighting, secure shelter for sleep and bathing, and little police presence especially after dark. Many women were often raped by more than one person at night and perpetrators were usually armed. Rape has been dramatically under-reported by women mainly because it is regarded by many as a ‘futile act’ due to dismissive police attitudes based on the survivor’s inability to identify the attacker/s. Lack of female police officers as well as fear of a reprisal have also acted as barriers to reporting.
There are a number of influencing factors which have led to this shocking situation: a breakdown in social safety networks for many people who had lost parents, spouses and others in the disaster, who had provided support, resources and protection; lack of political will and capacity (partly due to loss of many personnel) meant there was little state intervention, furthermore the absence of response is seen to have implicitly condoned further violence; also in the relief efforts poor women were excluded from participation and governance, which led to a largely gender blind response. To add to this in the previous decades during political unrest sexual violence has been used as a political weapon against women, which has paved the way for sexual violence being normalised in Haiti to a certain extent.
The report provides some recommendations which address these key factors and more generally calls for the Haitian State to act with due diligence in preventing violence against women and providing justice for women who have already suffered violence. They suggest this should be achieved by implementing effective measures to ensure thorough and timely investigation, prosecution and punishment or perpetrators, as well as by providing access to redress for those who have experienced sexual violence.