Haiti's post-disaster disaster

The quake has worsened the country's existing rape and sex trafficking crisis

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 30, 2010 1:10AM (EST)

Sometimes trauma begets more trauma. Today, the U.K.'s Times Online reports that women and girls are being sexually harassed and raped in Haiti's emergency shelters. The earthquake's aftermath has provided the ideal elements for crime: blackouts, rickety tent cities, vulnerable orphaned children and a staggering 7,000 escaped prisoners who are now roaming the streets and "running wild," as police chief Mario Andresol put it. Also, security is in short supply: Of the police force's 8,000 officers, 70 were killed, 400 were wounded and 500 are still missing. Of course, that also makes it difficult to keep track of assaults, so official numbers aren't yet available.

This bleak news comes on the heels of a warning Thursday by U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay that traffickers might try to take advantage of the many Haitian children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents. A State Department spokesman also raised "concerns about traffickers" and "pedophiles," and reported seeing a "couple" of such cases recently.

Sadly enough, an increase in rapes and abuse is often anticipated in the wake of natural catastrophes like hurricanes and tsunamis. But that is particularly true in Haiti, which had "shocking levels of rape and sexual violence" even before the earthquake, according to an Amnesty International report. During a coup d'êtat in 1991, and again in 2004, rape was routinely used as a political tool of terror; and it was rarely taken seriously as a crime or even punished. What's more, the U.S. State Department considered Haiti a "special case" in the fight against sex trafficking even before the quake. Combine all these elements and you get a devastating post-disaster disaster.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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