Haiti quake refugee camps tighten security to prevent rape of women

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Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Feb.7 (ANI): One of the unmentioned effects of last month's earthquake in Haiti, is that women and young girls are suffering a rising number of rapes and sexual assaults, according to leading aid agencies.

So widespread are the reports - and they include the rape of a girl of 12 by her rescuer after she was pulled out from the rubble, that emergency measures are now being taken.

According to The Independent, displaced men and women patrol some camps with makeshift arms to ward off attackers; girls wear jeans under their skirts for protection if they go out after dark; temporary women-only health centres are being set up; and NGOs try to deliver aid to dangerous neighbourhoods where women are too scared to go out in search for food.

Sarah Spencer, gender-based violence co-ordinator for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who arrived in Port-au-Prince two weeks ago, said: "Violence against women was a problem in Haiti before this crisis. Now, women and girls are dramatically more vulnerable to attack."

"Many women have been left without male protection because their husbands or brothers were killed. All of this means the risk to women in post-disaster Haiti have elevated dramatically," Spencer added.

The Ti Source camp, which is home to 3,000 refugees and is located 30-minutes from Port-au-Prince, has formed a male security group to prevent rape of women.

Martine Josil, 24, said: "After the earthquake we felt very afraid because people were talking about rapes and robberies in other camps. We were all sleeping out in the open on the streets and things were very chaotic. There were many women who had lost their husbands and they felt very vulnerable. We didn't want to get raped so we asked the guards to protect us."

The men, and some women, carry makeshift weapons - iron bars and knives - and guard the camp throughout the night in groups of five.

Jean Michelet Cornet, 30, is one of the 21 volunteer security guards at Ti Source who makes sure everyone is in their tent after dark, and then checks for any strangers.

He said: "We are here to protect the women in our camp from sexual abuse or even beatings from their husbands. We have machetes, iron bars and ropes to protect the women in our camp."

In Port-au-Prince, the International Rescue Committee has set up two female health centres in the past week, providing rape victims with life-saving medical treatment such as retroviral drugs which protect against HIV.

More than 5 per cent of the adult population have HIV/Aids in Haiti, the highest rate outside Africa. Rates of sexual and domestic violence against women and girls in Haiti are among the highest in the world.

ActionAid is delivering food and water to poor neighbourhoods where women are too scared to leave their homes and walk to aid distribution points, in case they can't get home before sunset.

Rape was criminalised only in 2005 but, as with domestic abuse, it remains shrouded in shame. (ANI)

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