Take a moment to imagine life in constant fear of sexual violence.
Imagine trying to survive without police protection, without adequate housing, without the ability to petition the courts for justice. Contemplate life without access to medical care to meet your basic physical needs following an assault — let alone your need to recover from the mental and emotional trauma.
If this sounds like life hundreds of years ago and a world away from the United States, take a moment to consider that it’s reality right now, just a two-hour flight from my Congressional District.
It’s the reality of gender-based violence right now in Haiti.
But, thankfully, through smart policy and the strength and courage of Haitian women, it’s a reality that’s within our power to change.
After the January 2010 earthquake — which claimed up to 220,000 lives and ruined nearly 3 million more livelihoods — Haiti experienced a striking increase in the incidence of gender-based violence. In a recent study, 14 percent of earthquake-affected households reported at least one member being victimized by sexual violence since 2010. Nearly half of the victims are girls under 18, and many cases involve the use of weapons, gang-rape and death threats for seeking help from authorities. These threats, coupled with a lack of police presence and equipment, have created a situation of impunity for violent offenders. This undermines the integrity of Haiti’s legal system and denies women and girls their most basic dignity.
The crisis of gender-based violence is a symptom of the broader challenge Haiti faces in the wake of the worst natural disaster in memory. Approximately 293,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged, leaving 1.5 million people in insecure living situations including camps with high levels of violence. Nearly 80 percent of the schools in Port-au-Prince were rendered unusable, leaving young people with limited opportunity and no place to spend their days. Almost 25 percent of civil servants in Port-au-Prince were killed, leaving the nation with a staggering need for government capacity including judicial officers and police.