Claudine* overlooks a wide valley high above the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The lush tropical vegetation, cool fresh air and low-hanging clouds are in stark contrast to the dusty, hot and stuffy back streets of Petionville further down the valley, where four years ago she was the victim of the sexual abuse that changed her life.
“I was 16 at the time and living with my cousin and her husband,” she said. “I took care of her children as if they were my own.” Claudine should have gone to school, but after the deaths of her mother and grandmother, she had no choice but to become a maid in her cousin’s house. There she was sexually abused by her cousin’s husband.
“I didn’t know what to do but a friend reported the incident to the police but nothing was done to locate the man.”
A refuge from abuse
A year after her daughter was born, Claudine was placed in a shelter for abused minors, many of whom like her were caring for newborns. The asylum, where she has lived for three years, is run by Rapha House, an organization working to end human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.
Nahomy Augustin is project coordinator for the international NGO in Haiti. “Many of the young women here are victims of extreme poverty and insecurity, so the lack of basic services and opportunities they have access to means they become vulnerable to abuse,” she said.
The refuge, which is located in a deliberately inconspicuous building in a tranquil district above Port-au-Prince, supports the young women in coming to terms with their traumatic experiences. “We take a holistic approach,” Nahomy Augustin said, “and offer a range of services including medical and psychological care, housing and legal advice, and family mediation.”
The goal is to help each young woman return to her family within a year as long as it is safe, but many like Claudine stay longer. The women’s shelter currently offers space for 24 young women and their babies, but a new center is being built that can accommodate up to 80 people.
The Spotlight Initiative, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, supports this and other women’s shelters in Haiti.
rape as a weapon
Geraldine Alferis is UNICEF’s Gender Violence Expert. “Haiti, and particularly the capital Port-au-Prince, is seeing an increase in gang violence. Thousands of girls and women are being displaced, making them very vulnerable to abuse,” she said.
In July, the United Nations said rival gangs in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince were using “the systematic use of rape against women and girls as a weapon of war.”
“Gang rape is a particularly tragic event and that’s why we’re working to ensure survivors get the help they need,” said Geraldine Alferis.
The Spotlight Initiative in Haiti focuses on ending domestic violence, rape, incest, sexual harassment, physical and psychological violence, and other restrictions on the freedoms and rights of women and girls. It also aims to provide holistic care to women and girls who have been victims of violence.
Visiting the shelter, Ulrika Richardson, the UN resident coordinator in Haiti, said “it was terrifying to hear the stories of these young women and girls,” adding, “I also felt hope and the importance of the services.” they serve they have access.”
“I’m proud of the Spotlight initiative and the much-needed assistance it is providing along with our local partners, but what I heard on this visit is a stark reminder of the urgency of tackling the root causes of sexual violence .”
At the refuge above Port-au-Prince, like Claudine, survivors can study and attend classes many missed when they were young. They can also take hands-on courses to learn skills like sewing or soap making, which can help them earn a small amount of money, an important first step in building their independence.
“Going to school is very important,” Claudine said. “If you work for a family like me, just getting food and a bed is not enough. They must be given the opportunity to study and build their own lives.”