New Report Finds Economic Insecurity Increasingly Puts Haitian Girls at Risk of Violence

December 06, 2012

A new report [PDF] on gender-based violence (GBV) in Haiti “suggests that adolescent girls are  disproportionately suffering social and violent aftershocks of the earthquake,” including “unwanted and early pregnancies, illegal abortions, and child abandonment” which have increased, while “reports link cases to sexual violence and increased ‘survival sex’ in teenage girls.”

The report, “BEYOND SHOCK – Charting the landscape of sexual violence in post-quake Haiti: Progress, Challenges & Emerging Trends 2010-2012,” was released by the organizations Poto Fanm-Fi (Women and Girls Pillar) and Poto Fi, and is based on information from over 60 agencies, field providers and additional groups and “perspectives from international groups with Haiti initiatives.” It includes findings from a field research survey of some 2000 pregnant adolescents and family members.

Whereas much media attention has focused on particular forms of GBV – most notably rape, and often rape committed by strangers (the vulnerability of women and girls in IDP camps has been frequently stressed as well) — the report presents a broader picture of GBV, noting, for example, that “Overall, domestic violence cases make up 90% of all GBV reported cases since 2010, dwarfing rape?only cases by a broad ratio of 3:1. This was similar to the ratio before 2010, and calls for greater national action to prevent domestic violence.”

The report stresses the vulnerability of minors:

Adolescents and younger girls make up over 60% of reported rape cases since 2010 – the majority. As one Haitian advocates put it, “The adults get beaten; the younger ones get raped.” Both victims and perpetrators have gotten younger, say advocates. Reports of incest have increased; a possible sign families are more confident reporting crimes against children.

Regarding rapes, the report finds that “Contrary to early media reports, data suggest the majority of rapes since 2010 were committed by persons known to the victims  ??neighbors and acquaintances?? not escaped criminals.”

The report also confirms a “boom” in pregnancies resulting from rapes and “survival sex” following the quake: “64% of 981 adolescents reported they got pregnant from rape.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the report finds that many adolescents and girls do not receive treatment or services following attacks, or once they are pregnant, but the numbers are staggering:

•  60% of 1317 girls reported that they had received post?rape counseling; 40% had not. 

•  69% of 1035 girls reported seeking access to post?rape health services after rape, but many did not do so within the 72 hour reporting window for reporting rape. Their cases are not “officially” documented.

•  70% of 1277 girls reported having sought and received a pregnancy test after rape. Among the 30% who did not seek the test were girls from the rural zone of Cap Rouge and girls under age 14.

•  43% of 843 respondents stated they sought to end their pregnancy (with abortion); 57% did not.

•  Over 90% of over 1000 girls cited shock, anger, depression and post?trauma as reasons they sought counseling for rape. A significant minority noted that wished to die; a small number had tried suicide. 

The report describes the economic factors behind GBV in the wake of the earthquake and other recent disasters. The press release states that “lack of shelter and food – have increased girls’ risk of GBV and trading sex since 2010. Many respondents, especially rural girls, stated that they often missed a daily meal,” and the report itself notes that it

identifies youth and economic vulnerability, along with gender, as the broad risk factors for sexual violence. Specific factors include lack of housing for women?headed households and poor families with adolescent girls, lack of safe housing for GBV victims, rising food insecurity, and a 2012 surge in urban violent crime and gang activity – all reflections of a worsening economic picture that impacts on both genders and is a key engine of sexual violence. The economic situation has been exacerbated by chronic natural disasters, including hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, and a cholera epidemic.

Despite these shocking statistics, the report “reveals that less than 1% of international bank funding has been dedicated to fighting sexual violence, limiting an otherwise robust and expanding effort by grassroots groups and Haiti’s government to fight gender?based violence.” As with so much other aid for Haiti, “Outside funding has largely flowed to non?government agencies, leaving Haiti’s women’s ministry with too little funding and political muscle to oversee a national effort by many small and larger actors.”

The authors (Anne-christine d’Adesky with PotoFanm+Fi) find that women’s housing and income generation are important solutions to this bleak situation, along with holistic services for victims. They say the report also “documents how Haitian civil society has coped and led despite herculean obstacles. The report offers a portrait of the rebuilding of Haiti’s feminist movement and profiles grassroots women’s and GBV leaders that provide a range of voices, perspectives, and reflections on the post?quake period.” They add, “On the positive side, the earthquake has led to increased advocacy against sexual violence. The report presents data showing that local community groups provided better camp security before takeover by a UN agency, suggesting social ties are key to reducing violence.”

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