Ever since I accepted the job in Haiti find myself noticing news reports, photos and events related to Haiti. I received some briefing papers through this week, outlining the work I would be doing out there, but also highlighting the risks involved in living in such a poor and destitute country. Initially the warnings filled me with dread, but the more I learn about the country I will soon call ‘home’ (albeit temporarily) the more I am filled with compassion for the people there.
Following the devastating earthquake that hit the capital Port-au-Prince on January 12th 2010, more than a million people have been living in ‘tent cities’ in and around the capital, living in cramped and crowded conditions. Personal security is a problem, and women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and rape is rife, with 100 cases reported in January and February alone according to KOFAVIV an organisation working to support rape survivors.
Yet bringing the perpetrators to justice faces several obstacles. The crime was only made illegal in 2005 and it remains difficult to obtain the essential medical certificate so heavily relied upon in court. Fears of reprisal and attitudes towards rape victims often deter women from reporting attacks, implying that the statistics are masking a wider problem. The justice system is struggling to get back on its feet after documents were destroyed in the earthquake, and police forces are inundated with other priorities.
Haiti’s new president remains upbeat – perhaps due to his pop star personality – and asserts that change is possible: “We need to change all this. It is our will and our mission to change all this, to make sure the rule of law reigns in Haiti, that justice is for everybody”
Justice for rape victims in Haiti needs reform, along with better information provision and a change of attitude towards survivors of rape. These and other recommendations were given at a recent forum in Port-au-Prince. It remains to be seen whether support for this initiative will translate into policy that will improve the situation for survivors of sexual violence.