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Sexual violence in refugee camps
Latinamerica Press
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Almost four years after earthquake women are still scared of sexual assaults.

After the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, more than a million people had to move to refugee camps where more than 350,000 of them still live today. Sexual violence against women exacerbated due to the insecure living conditions granting no protection to women and girls.

Displacement is named as one of the key factors in the rise of sexual violence against women in Haiti as social and familial networks no longer function in order to protect them. This is worsened by the housing situation in camps since tents cannot be locked and shielded from unwanted intruders at night. Women are also being attacked while fetching water or waiting for food distributions as well as in latrines and at bathing sites.

Sexual violence has a long history in Haiti where women are still treated as second class citizen. Rape won notoriety during the dictatorships of François Duvalier (1957-71) and his son Jean-Claude (1957-1986), during the regime of Raoul Cédras, who ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, and the post-coup period until 1994 when Aristide was restored to power, that were often used as a tool of political oppression against female supporter of democratic movements.

The current legislation still favors the discrimination of women and leaves them vulnerable to sexual abuse as for example marital rape is still not recognized as such. It was only in 2005 that rape was made a crime while before it was only considered as a ‘crime against morals’.

Women unprotected
Due to the lack of state infrastructure after the catastrophe impunity for perpetrators increased even further, while basic services regarding protection from abuse and medical treatment were rendered ineffectual or destroyed.
According to Human Rights Watch, 60 percent of health facilities were destroyed while 10 percent of health professionals died or emigrated. The earthquake also took its toll among trained staff of organizations supporting women and girls affected by sexual violence.

As women living in the camps often have no means to maintain their family prostitution and transactional sex became a way of dealing with these additional economic problems triggered by the earthquake and the loss of means to a livelihood. As a new post earthquake coping mechanism it entails additional hardships for women as unwanted pregnancies often result from it leaving the women in an even worse situation as they then also have to deal with the pregnancy and later on with the newborn baby.

Unwanted pregnancies are also often the result of rape in as well as of lack of information concerning post rape treatment and scarce access to contraceptives.

On grass root level refugees are trying to tackle the rape problem in the camps by forming watchdog groups which check up on women striding up and down the tents. Delna Charlotin, head and founder of such a watchdog group in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince told to the press her reasons for starting this initiative: “One day, there was a young woman who had been violently raped not far from us. No one dared to come to her rescue.
That’s when I decided that we needed to come together, to unite and fight that we couldn’t let this go on anymore.” —Latinamerica Press.

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