By Yvonne P Mazzulo, Women’s Issues Examiner
- May 25th, 2011 9:01 am ET
As the images of Haiti begin to fade from the media, filthy living conditions and the psychological aftershocks remain. In the midst of Haiti’s attempt to rebuild, a new epidemic crisis emerges and that is the ongoing sexual violence directed against women and girls.
Releasing a strategic plan for family housing for an estimated 1.3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who occupy 1,000 camps in the region, the government of Haiti is beginning a new focus in the handling of sexual violence with promises to push legislative measures throughout the system. The goal is to bring greater security to all women and girls in Haiti.
After a recent May 6th TrustLaw Connect anti-rape forum on sexual violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s new President-elect Michel Martelly stated, “We need to change all this. It is our will and our mission to change all this, to make sure the rule of law reigns in Haiti, that justice is for everybody, that the police do their job.”
The TrustLaw Connect initiative, sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, is assisting to bring expert information together on current conditions covering sexual violence and violence against women in Haiti. A pro-bono (no cost) global network of 160 corporate counsels and law firms, individual attorneys, and legal teams are now making themselves available to assist women in diverse global regions who have little to no access to any legal assistance.
The problems are more than numerous, they are overwhelming. Immediate medical treatment following rape has been almost non-existent inside the camps with victims of rape falling into every age group. Girls are often common targets. A recent University of Michigan sponsored study in Port-au-Prince estimates that over half of the victims in their survey on sexual assault were under the age of eighteen.
A stronger knowledgeable police presence is needed in the camps, a comprehensive understanding of the violent nature of attacks, which can include severe bodily damage, is also needed. Only 385 arrests out of 622 rape crime reports were made in 2010, shared Port-au-Prince Chief of Police, Mario Andresol, during the recent forum on sexual violence. Of those arrested in 2010 only a small portion, 45 rape criminals to date, have been convicted of their crime.
To battle the problems of violence against women, one camp in Port-au-Prince has organized a community-based security team in the Champ de Mars camp. Located in muddle of what was once the center of downtown Port-au-Prince, 25 men from the camp are now on “special security” patrol surrounding tents, community toilets, camp alleyways and streets to insure a system of round-the-clock safety for women and girls.
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law reports that 14% of all households surveyed in four separate camps for IDPs have discovered that one or more members of their household has been “victimized by rape or unwanted touching or both.” An alarming 70% percent of the survey respondents also said they were “more worried” about sexual violence in the days following the earthquake hit Haiti.
Lawyers Earthquake Response Network (LERN), led by the U.S. based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), is a national network of lawyers in the U.S. working with Haitian lawyers to implement a legal response to the earthquake in Haiti. Launched on January 17th, 2010 and within the first 2 weeks, over 250 lawyers, law professors, and students joined the network.
LERN’s Rape Accountability and Prevention Project (RAPP) provides individual victims of sexual assault the legal services they need to obtain justice and compensation, while working with allies in Haiti and abroad to transform the social context that underlies the vulnerability of Haitian women to assault. The Project also aims to deter future rape by punishing the perpetrators and forcing a more effective response by law enforcement and the justice system.
If you wish to show your support to the girls and women of Haiti, please join the Facebook page of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims). For information on how to get involved with LERN please click here.