The chilling story of one woman's sexual assault in post-disaster Haiti is on the front page of The New York Times today. Unfortunately, the story's subject isn't alone.
Twenty-two year-old Rose was abducted, raped seven or eight times, and kept under rubble in a ruined house. She was released after her family raised $2000 for her ransom. Deborah Sontag writes,
So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women's groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Thousands of escaped prisoners in a devastated society, tent cities and camps that are poorly lit and unsecured, generalized despair—all are seen as factors in this. According to the story, case workers are counseling triple the usual number of victims.
As we noted shortly after the earthquake hit, gender-focused humanitarian groups urged aid workers to pay particular attention to the vulnerability of women in disaster zones. And in March, Amnesty International urged its members to email President René García Préval to ask for increased police presence in camps to protect women, improve sanitation and lighting there, increase access to counseling and healthcare, and ensure that authorities accord with the response processes outlined in the National Plan to Fight Violence Against Women.
What's changed since then? Sontag reports,
Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them.
On a side note, somebody please make a documentary about these Bangladeshi women policing Haiti. But more importantly, there is plenty of indication in Sontag's piece that the system to help rape victims and even broach seeking or prosecuting the perpetrators is broken. Rose was kidnapped when she was sitting in a police car with an officer who was easily overcome; another policeman waited til the next morning to inform her family that she had been kidnapped. After she was returned to her family,
Rose had already changed her clothes and bathed, which she did not know would frustrate the collection of evidence. But the police did not raise the issue, anyway, her family said.
Rose did receive medical care at a Doctors Without Borders clinic. But apparently, no one raised the issue of even locating the rapists, who are presumably now free to repeat their crimes.