Haiti’s sexual violence survivors demand justice

The men came before sunrise, burning and destroying everything in their path before they reached *Sarah’s sheet-metal home in the impoverished Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cite Soleil. Then, they broke down the door.

“If it wasn’t for God, they would have killed me for sure,” the young Haitian woman told Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (SOFA), a feminist civil society group in Haiti, about the July 2022 attack. She said three men raped her in front of her mother and two children before they let them all go.

“Thank God they didn’t do anything to my mother and children,” Sarah said in her testimonial, which was shared with Al Jazeera this month. “They let us go, but after a few minutes they set our house on fire.”

Sexual violence has surged in Haiti amid widespread gang killings and kidnappings, a political stalemate that has crippled most state institutions, and socioeconomic uncertainty across the Caribbean nation.

Over the past several months, criminal gangs vying for control of territory have enacted a campaign of terror in the capital of Port-au-Prince. They have used sexual violence “to instill fear and to punish and to terrorise” residents, a United Nations official recently warned.

“We are in an abysmal situation,” said Elizabeth Richard, programme coordinator at ActionAid Haiti, a non-profit group working to support sexual violence survivors in the country. With videos of gang attacks circulated widely on social media, Richard said a sense of numbness and dehumanisation has set in, eclipsing the scope of the problem.

“I don’t want it to be normal – because we have to reach a point where we say, ‘OK that’s enough’,” she told Al Jazeera. “In Haiti, [women] are the pillar of the society. If you have women experiencing this type of issue, how can you have a society at all in a sense?”

Cases skyrocket

SOFA, which operates five centres in support of sexual violence survivors in Haiti’s northwestern region of Grand’Anse as well as another centre in Port-au-Prince, documented a sixfold increase in reported rape cases in the capital between January and December of last year.

A senior SOFA representative, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said approximately 20 rape victims sought out the organisation’s help in Port-au-Prince each month between January and September 2022.

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