Sexual assaults add to miseries of Haiti’s ruins
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 22-year-old woman, wearing a gauzy blue dress that she had changed into after her release, spoke in a whispery voice.
Perhaps the worst part of the whole ordeal, she said, was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.
But stashing her in the ruins of a home? Making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.
“Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe,” said the woman, Rose, who requested that her full name be withheld.
Rose’s kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a women’s health clinic at the family’s request.
Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others’ misery.
So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women’s groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and “the threat is constant,” said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.
Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.
“It’s an ideal climate for rape,” she said.