Kidnapped for rape and ransom in Haiti’s ruins

The worst part of the whole ordeal 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 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 who requested that her full name be withheld.

The 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.

Ms. Villard said that Kofaviv’s two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer — 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.

Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.

Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this city’s battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.

Read the full story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/world/americas/24haiti.html



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