CHRGJ briefing paper documents high levels of sexual abuse in Haiti's camps for the internally displaced

On March 16th, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) released the preliminary results of its survey on gender-based violence (GBV) and the right to food and water in Haiti’s camps for the internally displaced (IDP); it confirmed that there are disturbingly high levels of sexual violence taking place in the camps. The survey is part of a larger CHRGJ study seeking to examine links between gender-based violence and access to food and water in Haiti’s IDP camps.

“After the earthquake, we started receiving daily reports of sexual assault occurring while women engage in ordinary activities, such as using the latrine or washing in the morning,” said Professor Margaret Satterthwaite, who is the primary investigator on the project. “Because calls for immediate help were falling largely on deaf ears, we decided to take on a survey that would provide a clearer picture of the scope of the problem and also provide a statistical snapshot of the issue. The results of this survey indeed confirm these reports and amplify calls for immediate action to prevent further assaults."

Satterthwaite, CHRGJ Senior Program Director Veerle Opgenhaffen, and Ellie Happel '11, a student in the Law School’s Global Justice Clinic, traveled to Haiti in January to conduct the survey of 365 households in four IDP camps in Port-au-Prince. Preliminary results revealed that rates of sexual violence are higher than previously documented, with 14 percent of respondents reporting that one or more members of their household had been victimized by rape or unwanted touching since the 2010 earthquake; nine percent reporting that they or a member of their household had experienced rape or forced sex since the earthquake; and eight percent reporting that they had experienced some other form of unwanted touching or sexual harassment.

“We hope that these survey results will compel international donors, the NGO community, and the Haitian government to think critically about how to provide services in ways that make women and other vulnerable populations less susceptible to sexual violence,” Happel said. “Simple solutions like increased lighting in the latrine areas and working locks on the latrine doors are affordable interim steps and could be very effective at preventing attacks during the transition toward rebuilding Haiti’s infrastructure.” 

In February, the Center hosted a panel discussion on this issue. “Human Rights Law and Gender-based Violence in Haiti: New Paths toward Prevention and Accountability,” featured Satterthwaite and panelists Malya Villard-Appolon (co-founder of the Haitian women’s rights organization KOFAVIV), Lisa Davis (human rights advocacy director of international women’s rights organization MADRE and adjunct professor of law for the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY), Yifat Susskind (executive director of MADRE). Panelists emphasized their belief that gender-based violence must become a higher priority for the Haitian government, international community, relief and donor organizations, and the current Haitian presidential candidates.

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