By NAN Staff Writer
NEWS AMERICAS, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Oct. 19, 2022: “In the afternoon of July 7, 2022, Rose, a mother of four and five-months pregnant, was severely beaten and raped, in the presence of her children, by three heavily armed masked men. The latter had forced their way into her home during an attack launched against the residents of Brooklyn, in Cité Soleil. Earlier that day, Rose’s husband had been shot dead by members of the same gang. Before leaving, the armed individuals set her house ablaze, forcing Rose and her children to sleep out in the open in a public space for many nights.”
The story of Rose is just one of at least 52 women and girls who the UN’s Integrated Office in Haiti and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights say were collectively raped by armed elements during a week of intense violence opposing two rival gang coalitions in Cité Soleil, Haiti
A new report, titled: ‘Sexual Violence In Port-Au-Prince: A Weapon Used By Gangs To Instill Fear,’ and jointly published by the two organizations, claims that armed gangs in the CARICOM nation have used rape, including collective rapes, and other forms of sexual violence to instill fear, punish, subjugate, and inflict pain on local populations with the ultimate goal of expanding their areas of influence, throughout the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.
The cases are horrendous.
“On May 22, Anne, a 14-year-old girl, was raped by a gang element in a street of Fontamara when she was fetching water for her family. The victim, who became pregnant after the rape, stated that not only did she live in constant fear of being sexually assaulted again but that, after the attack, she had to face stigma within her own community.”
“On July 8, 2022, heavily armed gang members forced their way into Marie’s home in Cité Soleil. After her husband was executed with a gunshot to the head, the armed men forced her to lay on top of his dead body, and then they raped her one after the other in the presence of her children. After the attack, the assailants set her home ablaze. She and her children had time to get out of the house before it was completely burned down, together with the body of her husband.”
“Louise, a young woman, recounted that, in early April 2022, she and other two female neighbors, including a 10- year-old girl, were collectively raped by a group of heavily armed men during gang confrontations in Croixdes-Bouquets. That day, gang members broke into her home and forced her to walk, together with the two other victims, to an isolated, abandoned area, where they were raped multiple times. The experience had been so traumatizing that she could not remember how many men raped them.”
“On March 13, 2022, Cathia, the girlfriend of a gang leader, and several
months pregnant, was first raped and then shot and killed in her home in Martissant by members of a rival gang. After the attack, the body of the 30- year-old victim was stripped half naked and its image was posted on social media.”
Demonstrators carry the body of a woman who was killed by police gunfire during a protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry calling for his resignation, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 10, 2022. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Women, girls and boys of all ages, as well as to a lesser extent men, have been victims of ruthless sexual crimes, the report said. That includes children as young as 10 who were subjected to collective rapes for hours in front of their parents by more than half a dozen armed elements during attacks against their neighborhoods.
Viewed as enemies for their real or perceived support to rival gangs, or for the simple fact of living in the same areas as those rival gangs, some of these victims were mutilated and executed after being raped.
Gangs have also reportedly resorted to sexual violence as a weapon to disrupt the social fabric by targeting women and girls crossing “frontlines” or moving across neighborhoods on foot or in public transport to carry out their daily livelihood activities, such as going to work, to marketplaces or to schools.
Sexual violence is also used by armed elements to bolster their position of power. Rape or the threat thereof is frequently used against kidnapped women and girls to press their families to pay ransom. Even though gangs usually present themselves as defenders of the communities under their control, their elements often coerce young women, girls and sometimes men, viewed as sexual objects, into becoming their sexual “partners.”
Some victims reported that they also preferred returning to work and trying to resume a “normal life” as a self-protection mechanism for their relatives and themselves, instead of initiating any legal action.
Gangs are able to commit acts of sexual violence and other human rights abuses mainly because of widespread impunity and ease of access to high caliber weapons and ammunitions trafficked from abroad.
Victims, who suffer from trauma and stigma from their own communities, are often compelled to remain in the area where they were attacked due to a lack of financial means to move somewhere else. Shelter programs providing safe habitable housing, as well as victim reintegration and rehabilitation support, outside gang-controlled areas are very rare. As a result, there is very limited data on the extent and impact of sexual violence involving armed gang elements.
As of August 2022, large swathes of the capital, accounting for at least 1.5 million people, were reportedly under the control or the influence of gang elements.