Interview By. Inga Rahmsdorf, Sueddeutsche.de
(German google translation);with IJDH Legal Fellow Annie Gell
An investigation brings to light how women in emergency shelters are increasingly victims of sexual violence in Haiti. A conversation with Annie Gell, one of the authors of a study, discussing the indifference, shame, and courage of women.
The perpetrators mainly attack at night and rape their victims in tents or on the way to the toilet. Haiti women and girls are often victims of sexual violence in the makeshift tent camps. Therefore, many parents believe that they should not send their children to school, according to a joint report now published by the City University of New York, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the women’s organization MADRE, based on interviews with victims. While official figures do not exist, there are thousands of cases. Still, hardly anyone cares about this issue, criticizes Annie Gell. The U.S. Attorney is one of the authors of the report. She works in Haiti with raped women and girls.
Sueddeutsche.de: Haiti’s earthquake happened one year ago — has the situation improved since then?
Annie Gell: More than a million people still living in around 2,000 makeshift camps and it looks as if they’ll still have to live there many more years. The rapes have increased over the past few months.An sexual violence epidemic is raging in the camps.
Sueddeutsche.de: How do you explain the rise in sexual violence?
Gell: Political instability, continued impunity, outbreak of cholera and the violent protests have led to more and more people are frustrated and desperate. These emotions are often channeled into violence against girls and women.Compounding this is perhaps the fact that many prisoners since the earthquake have been released. The prisons were indeed destroyed.
Sueddeutsche.de: The UN and many aid agencies have since been on the ground — has this done anything for women and girls’ safety?
Gell: There are some good projects, but when I speak for the women in the camps, who haven’t noticed any changes.They feel abandoned by the Haitian government and the international community. And while aid agencies and the UN can help, they can not replace the national government. More impressive is what the women do with very little resources to leverage security.
Sueddeutsche.de: What do the women do?
Gell: Distribute flashlights, support each other and form their own security patrols. However, this is difficult. Even for men who try to protect the women and girls from rape, it can often be very dangerous.
Sueddeutsche.de: Why are rapes so under-prosecuted?
Gell: Few of the victims indicate they’ve been sexually assaulted. They are ashamed or do not know whom to contact. Some women have also told me that the families of the perpetrators pay money for the women not to say anything. Others were raped by men who live in the same camp and threaten them after the rape. In addition, there are less police officers than before the earthquake. Haiti’s already weak legal and regulatory system has completely collapsed after the quake.
Sueddeutsche.de: And what happens when women speak out about being victims of sexual assault?
Gell: Women who dare to report assaults are mostly met with indifferent police and the authorities. One woman told me that a policeman had told her she deserved the rape, because she had a big butt.
Sueddeutsche.de: Is there a functioning legal system in Haiti, so that the rapes are prosecuted?
Gell: The Office of International Lawyers, where I work, we have 50 open cases. Six times we have been able to bring those responsible to justice and to condemn sentencing. Of course, compared with German or U.S. standards, this is a very difficult and sometimes frustrating process. But it is worth it.
Sueddeutsche.de: What could the Haitian government and the international community be doing to help women?
Gell: We ask for basic things such as better lighting. It’s not a big expense, but it helps greatly if camps are well lit at night, especially the toilets. We have found that the rapes are less frequent where there is more light. Also be more police in the camps, including female police officers. It is very important that the voices of women be heard.
Sueddeutsche.de: What do you mean by that?
Gell: The women of the camps are not involved in decision-making. But they are the experts on this issue. An example: The UN and the Haitian government hold their meetings in French only and are not prepared to translate them into Haitian Creole The majority of ordinary people speak only Haitian Creole.
Sueddeutsche.de: Do you see opportunities for improvement in Haiti?
Gell: It is difficult, but when I see all the women and girls, who are so strong and brave and keep fighting, despite all the difficulties, I’m hopeful that Haiti can move forward.
The complete study on sexual violence in Haiti, click here.
Click Here to see the Original Article