What does increased foreign presence in post-earthquake Haiti bring? Donated money, aid workers and increased U.N. presence, for sure. Also, Dominican prostitutes hoping to make a living off them.
That's what one of the women interviewed in a Time piece on the topic says of her decision to cross over to post-disaster Haiti from the Dominican Republic. It's a flow that has existed for some time — Time's Jessica Devarieux says with Haitian customers, a premium is placed on their mixed-race, often lighter-skinned appearances. But observers say it has actually grown since the earthquake.
There is evidence of coercion or deception in these women's employment in Haiti's sex trade. And even for voluntary sex workers, the experience has been difficult, both from economic and security points of view; the woman profiled by Time says she hasn't earned enough money to send much back to her 2 year old son, and she often feels unsafe.
There's another disturbing element to the story, which is mentioned in passing:
A June 2010 "Trafficking in Persons Report" by the U.S. State Department found forced prostitution of Dominican women in brothels in Haiti allegedly frequented by peacekeepers in the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The U.N. forbids peacekeepers from patronizing brothels and is currently investigating the cases.
It wouldn't be the first time that peacekeepers brought in to protect people were found to be doing the opposite. In 2007, the U.S. earlierexpelled several hundred Sri Lankan troops, part of the same U.N. mission, for a situation that included some Haitian girls being trafficked in Sri Lanka, as well as local crimes such as 13 year old girls having sex with peacekeepers for $1.
The connection between peacekeepers and the sex economy was recently documented in a research paper by Kathleen M. Jennings and Vesna Nikolić-Ristanović. They wrote:
In Haiti, meanwhile, both local and UN informants described the situation of the Haitian woman as being one of insecurity, poverty, lack of rights, and lack of legal, physical, and social protection. Moreover, some local informants saw the prospect of UN personnel sexually abusing or exploiting Haitian women and girls as being no more or less than what could be expected; in other words, that a group of UN personnel (specifically, men) cannot be expected to treat Haitian women better than a group of Haitian men would, notwithstanding the existence of the zero-tolerance policy or their status of UN peacekeepers.
As a local women's rights activist told the LATimes in 2007, "That a soldier can do this to a girl he's supposed to be protecting comes from the same mentality that allows a professor to do it to his student or a father to his daughter. In this society, women's bodies are regarded as meat."
In Postquake Haiti, An Influx of Dominican Prostitutes [Time]
Trafficking In Persons Report 2010 [State Department]
Related: UN Peacekeeping Economies and Local Sex Industries: Connections and Implications [Microconflict]
U.N. Confronts Another Sex Scandal [LAT]