April 13, 2012
Weeks after a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, human rights groups noted that women and girls living in temporary settlements were being harassed, abused, and violated.
Now researchers from the NYU School of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) and Global Justice Clinic have investigated the prevalence of sexual violence in the camps and identified a link between access to essential resources—food, water, sanitation—and rape or unwanted touching.
In 14 percent of camp households surveyed, at least one household member had been raped or sexually assaulted since the earthquake, according to a report co-authored by Margaret Satterthwaite, a professor at NYU Law and faculty director at CHRGJ, Justin Simeone, a scholar-in-residence at CHRGJ, and NYU Law students Farrell Brody and Nikki Reisch. In addition, 70 percent of households had grown more worried about sexual violence during this time, according to the study, which was released shortly after the two-year anniversary of the earthquake and was titled “Yon Je Louvri: Reducing Vulnerability to Sexual Violence in Haiti’s IDP Camps.”
“Our report proves what Haitian women’s groups have been saying since shortly after the earthquake—that women who have difficulty accessing the basic necessities of life, such as clean water, functioning latrines, and adequate food, are especially vulnerable to sexual violence,” says Satterthwaite.
Women who said they lived too far from the nearest latrines, for instance, were twice as likely to have a household member who had been sexually assaulted. Simple measures like installing lighting in camps and locks in latrines can make a difference, but Satterthwaite notes they must be coupled with long-term strategies for women’s economic empowerment.
The researchers called on the government of Haiti, the international community, and relief organizations to take action to protect women who are vulnerable to sexual assaults in the tent camps. Their recommendations also included expanding security patrols, creating income-generating activities for women, and ensuring that women have access to free or affordable clean shelter, medical services, and legal assistance to women who were sexually assaulted.