The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Diana Duarte, Media Coordinator
(212) 627-0444; email:

US Delegation Finds Inadequate Response and 'Victim-Blaming' Approach to Rapes in Haitian Displacement Camps

Lawyers collect rape survivor accounts and plan legal strategy


In over a week of on-site interviews and
exploration, a delegation of U.S. lawyers, health professionals, and
community activists found continued alarming rates of rape and other
gender-based violence (GBV) in the displaced persons camps throughout
Port-au-Prince since the Haitian earthquake in January. Expressed
sentiments on the part of some Haitian government officials that
survivors are somehow to blame for the rapes is outrageous to human
rights attorneys and community members, who find that women face a grave
lack of security necessary to prevent and respond to the sexual
violence crisis. Medical services are overwhelmed and unable to meet
women's healthcare needs stemming from the assaults.

"It is critical that we dispel the myth that these rapes are a result of
promiscuity," Blaine Bookey, an attorney with the Institute for Justice
& Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), and coordinator of the delegation.
"These are violent crimes being perpetrated in the dark of night and
they merit the attention of the police and other groups helping organize
the camps."

The vast majority of the women and girls reported being raped by groups
of armed, unknown assailants who often beat them in the course of the
attack, and threatened them with further violence if they reported the
rape. Perpetrators often attack at night, when women are asleep beside
their children or when they go to the latrines where men wait for them
in the dark stalls. "It is totally unacceptable for these rapes to
continue to go unpunished," said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney at
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), which hosted the delegation at
its office in Port-au-Prince. "We are now building strong legal cases to
hold rapists accountable and bring these women the justice they

Women who report rapes to the police describe being turned away, not
taken seriously, or told to notify the police if they see the rapists
again. "Pa tap vini" or "They never would have come," described one
woman as to why she did not report her rape. These experiences foster
the perception that reporting to the police is futile, especially if the
survivor cannot identify her assailants. "If we are going to overcome a
culture of complete impunity for rapists, we must create environments
in which survivors are comfortable reporting these crimes and where they
will be taken seriously" said Lisa Davis, an attorney with MADRE.

Information regarding medical and legal services for survivors of rape
is largely unavailable, and where available, it is generally incorrect
and incomplete. Where services exist, women face prohibitively long
waits, lack of privacy, and limited access to female healthcare
providers. "I accompanied a 15-year-old rape survivor to the General
Hospital, where we waited for three hours before being led to a dirty
cot in a public room, where a male doctor was to conduct the exam. I
ended up conducting the exam myself in another doctor's living
quarters," said Betsy Freeman, women's health specialist on the
delegation. Medical certificates, instrumental in documenting cases of
rape, are not reliably issued.

Based on these findings, the Port-au-Prince based BAI and LERN call on
the government of Haiti, UN agencies, donor nations, and nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) working in Haiti to immediately improve services
for rape survivors, and take concrete steps to reduce rape in the camps.
Police patrols must increase to include all camps, and officers must
patrol inside the camps, not just around the perimeter. Patrols should,
where possible, include female officers. Police stations must have
female officers who can help victims file reports, and all officers
should have training to sensitively take women's reports.

About the Organizations

Coordinated by the IJDH-organized Lawyers' Earthquake Response Network
(LERN), the delegation included representatives from MADRE, the
University of Virginia School of Law, TransAfrica Forum the ABA Section
of International Law, and the law firm of Morrison and Foerster. Members
met with grassroots women's organizations, including KOFAVIV and
FAVILEK, and larger NGOs including Kay Fanm and SOFA.

Since January 12, LERN now has over 360 lawyers and law students
responding to various post-earthquake needs. IJDH and BAI fight for
human rights and justice in Haiti and for fair and just treatment of
Haitians in the United States.

Available for comment:

Lisa Davis, Human Rights Advocacy Fellow
& Marie St. Cyr, Board Member, MADRE
(212) 627-0444,

Blaine Bookey, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
(415) 515-8956;

MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that partners with community-based women's groups to advance women's human rights, challenge injustice and create social change in contexts of war, conflict, disaster and their aftermath. MADRE advocates for a world in which all people enjoy individual and collective human rights; natural resources are shared equitably and sustainably; women participate effectively in all aspects of society; and all people have a meaningful say in policies that affect their lives. For more information about MADRE, visit