Gang Wars In Haiti Leave Young Women, Girls Vulnerable To Sexual Assault

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‘Gruesome testimonies’ from victims show the need for urgent action, U.N. official says.

Gangs in Haiti are increasingly using sexual violence against women to terrorize and control people and territory on the impoverished Caribbean island.

According to a disturbing United Nations human rights report, the gangs are even targeting children as young as 10, elderly women and sometimes men in an explosion of violence in the capital Port-au-Prince.

A 19-year-old woman, using the pseudonym “Nadia,” told The Associated Press that she became pregnant after a group of men dragged her into a car when she was walking home from school in the capital city. They held her for three days, during which she was beaten and gang-raped. She struggled with the idea of terminating her pregnancy but decided to keep her daughter, now three months old. Nadia now lives in fear for herself and her baby.

“Gangs use sexual violence to instill fear, and alarmingly the number of cases increases by the day as the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Haiti deepens,” Nada Al-Nashif, the Acting Human Rights Chief said.

“The gruesome testimonies shared by victims underscore the imperative for urgent action to stop this depraved behavior, ensure that those responsible are held to account, and the victims are provided support.”

Indeed, Nadia’s experience has become all too common. Sexual violence in Haiti typically happens in the context of kidnappings, according to the U.N. report published in October 2022. The kidnappers have used video of the rapes to extort money from their victims’ families who usually can’t afford to pay.

“They’re running out of tools to control people. They extort, but there’s only so much money that can be extorted from people that are really poor. This is the one thing they have they can inflict on the population,” Renata Segura, deputy director for Latin America and the Caribbean for International Crisis Group, told The AP.

Like Nadia, scores of rape victims decide not to report the attacks out of fear of gang retaliation and the ineffectiveness of the local police. Underreporting makes it impossible to know the full extent of the problem.

Haitian officials declined The AP’s request to comment on how they are addressing the issue. But the U.N. has documented 2,645 cases of sexual violence in 2022, a 45 percent increase from the year before.

Security in Haiti has deteriorated sharply since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse inside his private residence in July 2021.

In July 2022, the U.N. announced that it documented 934 gang-related killings from January to June of that year. There were 680 kidnappings across the capital during that six-month period. And over a five-day period, from July 8 to 12, at least 234 more people were killed or injured in gang-related violence in the Cité Soleil area of the city.

“We are deeply concerned by the worsening of violence in Port-au-Prince and the rise in human rights abuses committed by heavily armed gangs against the local population,” a U.N. statement said about the skyrocketing violence.

“We urge the authorities to ensure that all human rights are protected and placed at the front and center of their responses to the crisis. The fight against impunity and sexual violence, along with the strengthening of human rights monitoring and reporting, must remain a priority.”

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