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Old 17 Mar 2010, 11:44 am   #1 (permalink)
American Psycho
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Default Haiti: Back to normal

Women fall victim to rapists in Haitian tent cities

Women fall victim to rapists in Haitian tent cities
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By Michelle Faul, The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- When the young woman needed to use the toilet, she went out into the darkened tent camp and was attacked by three men.

"They grabbed me, put their hands over my mouth, and then the three of them took turns," the slender 21-year-old said, wriggling with discomfort as she nursed her baby girl, born three days before Haiti's devastating quake.

"I am so ashamed. We're scared people will find out and shun us," said the woman, who suffers from abdominal pain and itching, likely from an infection contracted during the attack.

Women and children as young as 2, already traumatized by the loss of homes and loved ones in the Jan. 12 catastrophe, are now falling victim to rapists in the sprawling tent cities that have become home to hundreds of thousands of people. With no lighting and no security, they are menacing places after sunset.

Sexual assaults are daily occurrences in the biggest camps, aid workers say -- and most attacks go unreported because of the shame, social stigma and fear of reprisals from attackers.

Rape was a big problem in Haiti even before the earthquake and frequently was used as a political weapon in times of upheaval. Both times the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted, his enemies assassinated his male supporters and raped their wives and daughters.

But the quake that killed an estimated 200,000 people has made women and girls ever more vulnerable. They have lost their homes and are forced to sleep in flimsy tents or tarp-covered lean-tos. They've lost male protection with the deaths of husbands, brothers and sons. And they are living in close quarters with strangers.

The 21-year-old said her family has received no food aid because the Haitian men handing out coupons for food distribution demand sexual favors.

Sex-for-food is not uncommon in the camps, said a report issued Tuesday by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development in Haiti. "In particular, young girls have to negotiate sexually in order to get shelter from the rains and access to food aid."

At the camp where the young mother was gang-raped, a woman in shorts tried to bathe discreetly Monday. Stripped to her waist, she faced her blue tarp tent, her back to the rows of other shelters. Nearby, a teenage girl squatted behind a pile of garbage, trying to avoid the stench and clouds of flies around tarp-covered latrines that provide the only privacy, but also are places where women are attacked.

In this camp, some 47,000 people live crowded into what used to be a sports ground, in a neighborhood that always has been dangerous. Residents include a dozen escaped prisoners, among them a man accused of a notorious murder, according to Fritznel Pierre, a human rights advocate who lives at the camp. "But nobody says anything because they're scared -- scared of the criminals and scared of the police," he said.

Mr. Pierre has documented three other gang rapes in the camp, including of a 17-year-old who says she was a virgin before six men attacked her and raped her repeatedly. "I really worry about the teenager because she has no one to look out for her. She says she sees her attackers but is afraid to report them because she would then have to leave the camp, and she has nowhere to go," he said.

Investigators for Human Rights Watch reported the first three gang rapes to U.N. officials. Then, two weeks later, on Feb. 27, the 21-year-old mother was gang-raped. Only a week later did U.N. police officers begin patrolling.

"For me, it seems completely bizarre that for this one camp that everyone knows is unsafe, it's taken them three weeks to get a patrol going," said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the Human Rights Watch women's rights division.
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