Much Gazette coverage has been given this year to the devastation in Haiti following the earthquake, including most recently the spread of cholera. However, another epidemic has been left unaddressed: the sexual violence against Haitian women and children.
The United Nations reported in 2008 that almost half the girls and young women living in poverty in Haiti had been raped. UNICEF estimated that 100,000 Haitian girls are currently held captive as sex slaves.
The incidence of rape has more than doubled since the earthquake, particularly in the camps where the threat of sexual attacks is constantly looming. Offenders are rarely prosecuted, and the victims are shamed, ignored and intimidated. Often they are subject to retaliation by their attackers if they report the rape. Since there is no enforced punishment for rape and sexual slavery in Haiti, the problem continues to escalate.
Because of the catastrophic earthquake, Haiti is receiving much international attention and aid; thus the time is perfect to demand that young women and children are better protected from sexual violence and their attackers prosecuted. On the anniversary of the earthquake, I wish to urge readers to help by writing a letter to Lawrence Cannon, the minister of foreign affairs, and insist that the new Haitian government end sexual violence as part of the wider humanitarian effort, and by signing a petition on this matter at www.ipetitions.com/petition/haitiangirls/.
These women and children have no voice, but each of us can help speak for them so that Haiti is rebuilt as a safer place for everyone.