Moving Beyond Rape in Haiti

©Michelle Marrion

“Women tell us about having their tents ripped open with machetes, gagged and gang raped, guns to their heads and removed from the tents,” describes Lisa Davis, Esq., a Human Rights Advocacy Director with the women’s rights organization, MADRE. MADRE had been assisting rape survivors in Haiti well before the earthquake in partnership with the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV). As part of a delegation of lawyers documenting sexual violence in the camps in May, Davis says one of the more distressing stories was, “hearing a plea for help from a grandmother whose five-year-old granddaughter had been raped.”

The victims of rape are stigmatized in Haiti, the act was only considered a crime in 2005, and the majority of women find it hard to report or to be treated seriously if they do. During the armed rebellion in 2004, which ousted President Aristide, rape was used as a political weapon as well as during the military coup in 1991. The current climate is one where rape is as much a vestige of political warfare as it is a result of escaped convicts living amid overcrowded and unlit camps. When countries descend into anarchy and there is an air of impunity, the problem of rape escalates as seen in the ex-Yugoslavian countries to the current tragedy in Congo.

©Michelle Marrion

Despite the United Nation’s Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Sub-Cluster’s presence, they’ve been criticized for a slow response; however, the grassroots efforts of MADRE and KOFAVIV are providing tangible solutions, including accompaniment for rape victims to ensure they seek medical care and have legal aid; administering flashlights and teaching women how to use whistles to alert neighbors of crimes in progress. The collaboration also facilitates psychosocial support through peer-counseling groups. While these efforts may appear minimal in contrast to the vast scope of what is left to do to create security and stability, they still represent signs of hope.

Another organization providing support to the victims of rape is Digital Democracy (Dd), which utilizes photography to encourage women to document their lives. “We were invited to Haiti three months after the earthquake by the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs,” says Emily Jacobi co-founder of Dd. Rather than remain isolated from the local community, Jacobi says, “My partner Abby [Goldberg] and I would go off-campus to conduct photo training with women who were directly affected by rape.” The two joined forces with Haitian women’s groups, KONAMAVID and FAVILEK, as well as The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and affiliate Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. After learning the basics of how to take photos, the women chose a theme to represent. “They all wanted to tell their story and many of them chose to tell the story of sadness, tristesse,” Jacobi shares. The images not only give voice to their pain and suffering, but to the immense strength these women find in one another. Photography becomes a means of healing, as well as a powerful way of shifting from the shame of being a victim into the promise of an encouraging future that these women are in fact creating.

©Michelle Marrion

To discover more or donate to the work of Digital Democracy or Madre please visit:

http://digital-democracy.org/

http://www.madre.org/

Watch a video about gender-based violence in Haiti:

http://vimeo.com/11091051

text by: Joseph Isho Levinson










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