Lack of Access to Basic Services a Driving Factor Behind Sexual Violence in IDP Camps

March 08, 2012

To mark International Women’s Day, HRRW is highlighting recent research concerning issues relating to women’s rights in Haiti.

Recent research from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice sheds light on factors contributing to an increase in sexual violence since the earthquake over two-years ago. The report, “Yon Je Louvri: Reducing Vulnerability to Sexual Violence in Haiti’s IDP Camps,” is based on surveys conducted in four IDP camps in January 2011 and additional follow up research throughout 2011. While the small sample size and logistical constraints prevent the research from being representative of the IDP population at large, it nonetheless provides an important analysis of the factors contributing to gender-based violence (GBV) and steps that can be taken to remedy the situation using a human rights based approach.

The report found that in the four camps visited, 14 percent of surveyed households reported that at least one member of the household had been a victim of sexual violence since the earthquake, while 70 percent of those surveyed were “more worried” about sexual violence after the earthquake. The report explains that because of underreporting this “is particularly striking because it likely captures a minimum level of sexual violence within the studied IDP camps.” Other studies have estimated significantly higher levels of sexual violence.

The vast majority of victims, 86 percent, were female. The study also found a significant correlation between a lack of services in IDP camps and the likelihood of being a victim of sexual violence. The report finds four significant factors other than gender:

• Suffer from limited access to food. Individuals who reported that they went at least one day without eating in the previous week were more than twice as likely to come from a victim household, as compared to those who did not report insufficient access to food;

• Confront limited access to water. The average victim household had less consistent access to drinking water than their non-victim counterparts. Four out of ten respondents from victim households did not obtain water from a free connection inside their camp during the previous week;

• Face limited access to sanitation. Participants who felt that the nearest latrine was “too far” from their shelter were twice as likely to live in a victim household, and among victim households, 29 percent indicated that they knew someone who was attacked while using the latrines;

• Live in a camp that lacks participatory and responsive governance structures. The survey found that camps with lower levels of consultation regarding camp management had a higher proportion of households reporting that one or more of their members had experienced sexual violence.

This is particularly troublesome because more recently services have been transferred out of IDP camps and into neighborhoods. This has left many in the camps with even fewer basic services available to them. After free water trucking services were discontinued, a DINEPA survey found that a third of all camp residents’ primary access to water is from a remote source, far from their camp.

The report notes that “while the Haitian State may bear primary responsibility for preventing, investigating, and remedying sexual violence,” it is also the case that “all the major players, from the government of Haiti and donor States to the United Nations and INGOs, have certain legal and moral obligations to take concrete, concerted actions to reduce vulnerabilities and increase the capacity of those living in camps to access what they need to survive in safety and dignity.”

In order to ensure that basic human rights are respected and all players participate in the strengthening of these rights and of the capacity of the Haitian government to ensure these rights, the report outlines specific recommendations:

1) Provide IDPs who have been sexually assaulted in camps with free and immediate access to alternative shelter, medical services, and legal assistance
2) Expand security patrols in and around camps and install lighting and locks in sanitation facilities in camps
3) Prioritize creation of income-generating activities for women
4) Ensure all IDPs have access to free or affordable clean water
5) Stop forced evictions of IDPs

To read the entire report, click here.

To find out more about the work that KOFAVIV, a Haitian grassroots group, is doing to provide services to victims of sexual violence and their efforts to prevent further abuses, click here and here. Also follow them on twitter, @KOFAVIV

For further background see the Institute for Justice and Democracy’s website.

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