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Associated Press/Photo by Jorge Saenz

Night crawlers

Haiti | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape

When darkness falls in the sprawling tent cities filling Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, the camps' most vulnerable earthquake victims worry about a new disaster that threatens each night-rape by fellow tent dwellers.

Since the Jan. 12 earthquake, women and children as young as 2 years old have fallen victim to rapists seizing on the insecurity of acres of tarps and tents now home to as many as 1 million people. The insecurity is worsened for defenseless women and children living without husbands and fathers killed in the quake.

Though there's no official toll of post-quake rapes in Haiti, aid workers and humanitarian groups estimate at least hundreds of attacks. Workers for the Haiti-based Commission of Women Victim-to-Victim (KOFAVIV) said they have tracked 230 cases of rape in 15 camps. "The way you saw the earth shake, that's how our bodies are shaking now," one member of the grassroots group told Beverly Bell, an associate fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies.

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A group of Haitian women who survived politically motivated rapes during civil unrest in 2004 founded KOFAVIV to help other rape victims. Their Port-au-Prince offices were destroyed in the quake, as was nearly every worker's home. The group now operates out of a tent, helping rape victims find medical care and recording their stories.

And according to Bell, the stories are gut wrenching: A 24-year-old man raped a 2-year-old girl in one refugee camp. A group of men raped another 2-year-old in a different camp. Four men raped an 18-year-old girl so violently she could not walk the next day.

KOFAVIV head Delva Marie Eramithe told The Associated Press that local police officers are little help in many camps. She learned that firsthand: When an assailant attacked her own 18-year-old daughter near the sprawling downtown tent city on the Champs de Mars plaza, the girl's three sisters fought him off. When Eramithe reported the attack to police and told them where to find the man, she said the officers did nothing. She said one officer "told us to go and get the attacker and bring him to them."

When aid workers in another camp told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that they were treating a 7-year-old girl raped in the camp he was visiting, Ban promised the UN would "make every effort" to make sure camps are safe. But Fritznel Pierre, a human rights advocate living in the same camp with some 47,000 people, told AP that UN patrols are ineffective: "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."

Aid workers say many women are afraid to report rapes-some are afraid of local police and some are afraid that their communities will shun them. So they suffer silently, waiting to see if their suffering will include infections or disease in a country with the highest HIV rate in the Western Hemisphere.

The suffering is also compounded by personal loss. KOFAVIV recently helped an 18-year-old girl who lost her parents, grandmother, a sister, and three cousins in the quake. After a middle-aged man offered to help her as she roamed the streets alone, he took her to a house where three men raped her.

The girl escaped, but now dreads nightfall. "I have to find somewhere to sleep, near some people who might help me if there's trouble," she told a reporter on a recent mid-afternoon. "It scares me, the way the men look at me, and they know I'm all alone."

Related coverage:

'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors| Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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