Gender-Based Violence in Post-Earthquake Haiti


Posted on September 13th, 2010 by Katherine Franke

Erin Meyer, a third year law student at Columbia, worked over the summer for Hogan Lovells in their NY office.  One of her pro bono assignments addressed the pressing needs of Haitian women who had been sexually assaulted in the aftermath of the earthquake.  Here are her observations about this issue:

In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of rape and other gender-based violence against Haitian women living in “Internally Displaced Persons” tent camps.  Women and girls whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake now find themselves living in camps that lack proper lighting, privacy, and security.  As a result, women in the camps are at increased risk of gender-based violence, and many have reported being attacked and raped by armed gang members.  Numerous obstacles prevent these women from accessing medical assistance and justice, including the inability to afford transportation to medical clinics, the fear of stigma and future harm by the perpetrators should they report the rape, and the unresponsiveness and corruption of the police.  See “Our Bodies are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape,” July 2010 Report of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti et. al., available at http://ijdh.org/archives/13361.

Along with two grassroots Haitian women’s organizations, KOFAVIV and FAVILEK, lawyers, researchers, and women’s health specialists from the United States have been working to assist Haitian women who have been raped and are at continued risk of gender-based violence.  In May 2010, a team of lawyers led by Jayne Fleming traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to interview women in the tent camps with the goal of filing applications for humanitarian parole on their behalf.  Humanitarian parole is a means of bringing a person who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency.  Urgent humanitarian reasons can justify a grant of humanitarian parole.

With the help of KOFAVIV and FAVILEK, the team conducted in-depth interviews with women who were candidates for parole to draft affidavits describing the effects of the earthquake and gender-based violence on themselves and their children.  They also brought the women to doctors and hospitals to provide medical assistance and psychological evaluations in support of the applications.

The team is now seeking sponsors for each humanitarian parole applicant.  Sponsors would pledge to financially support the woman and her children if they are granted parole in the United States.  This summer, under the supervision of Joanna Wasick, the Community Services Department associate of Hogan Lovells, I assisted in identifying institutions and community groups that may be able to sponsor these women, but additional sponsors are still very much needed.  I encourage anyone who is interested in sponsoring or who would like additional information to share with potential sponsors to contact Joanna at joanna.wasick@hoganlovells.com.

If you’re interested in learning more, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU is having a talk tonite, “Strategies for Change in Haiti: Tackling the Challenges of Gender Based Violence in Post-earthquake Haiti” click here for more information.

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