Addressing Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Haiti's Displacement Camps

News and Press Release
Originally published

Young girls and women living in Haiti's displacement camps since last year's earthquake have been particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse with many sources pointing to an increase in reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the country.

Data available from police, health facilities as well as national and international organizations seem to indicate that the rising numbers are linked to a growing trust between survivors and the police and service providers as access to services increase.

Nevertheless, with no prevalence study having been carried out to determine whether there has been any real increase in SGBV in the country and victims often unwilling or unable to seek help, there are few reliable statistics on the issue.

Women and girls are the greatest victims of SGBV in Haiti. Of the 60 people affected by SGBV helped by IOM since 2010, 97 per cent were women and girls, with men representing the remaining 3 per cent.

Fears of reprisal attacks mean victims do not file charges. Rape has only been criminalized since 2005 and poor training of police, lawyers and judges makes it extremely difficult to secure convictions. It is also difficult for survivors to acquire the medical certificates needed to win convictions in court.

Although there are currently about seven institutions in the greater Port-au-Prince area providing medical services for victims, most of the SGBV survivors interviewed by IOM said they had little idea who to report cases to or where to seek medical assistance. Many did not have the wherewithal to reach health facilities or were afraid to go alone.

Sexual abuse of child victims of trafficking has also come to light during IOM's work. Since January this year, IOM has identified close to 400 cases of trafficked children living in the displacement camps in extreme poverty, with about 50 per cent of them having suffered physical and sexual abuse by the time they were rescued.

More cases have been uncovered in the most poverty-stricken areas of Port-au-Prince and in the provinces where so many victims of the January 2010 earthquake fled. In addition 30 trafficked Haitian children were identified and rescued in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Working to lessen the vulnerability of women and girls including child victims of trafficking to SGGV in the camps, IOM is using US$ 1 million of funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to help prevent and respond to SGBV in 20 priority displacement sites across Port-au-Prince's seven communes.

Solar lights in key public areas such as entrances, water and sanitation facilities and community spaces will be installed by IOM to help reduce the risk of attack. Skills training programmes are also being developed jointly with national partners so that young Haitian women are more self sufficient and less vulnerable to victimization.

IOM efforts to further protect victims of trafficking are also being scaled up with US$1.6 m of funding from the US government's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and UNICEF which will allow the Organization to assist about 1,000 people.

"The earthquake exacerbated pre-existing abuses in Haiti and IOM is working with its local partners to prevent another generation of women and girls being victimized, now that they are living cheek by jowl in crowded, unsanitary, poorly lit conditions in camps," says IOM's chief of mission in Haiti, Luca Dall'Oglio.

An estimated 680,000 are still living in camps in Haiti since January 2010.

For more information please contact:

Yolice Quero,Protection Coordination Officer IOM Haiti email: yquero@iom.int Tel 37014953

Tobias Metzner, Counter-trafficking Programme Manager, tmetzner@iom.int, Tel: 37011-94

Leonard Doyle, IOM Media and Communications Haiti; Email: ldoyle@iom.int Tel: + 509 3702 5066