A Haitian mother opens up about her child’s repeat rapes in a camp

Self portrait: 10-year-old rape victim, Flore (not her real name)

This past Friday, one of nine remaining tents in one of Port-au-Prince’s better camps went to a 33-year-old mother of five whose 10-year-old daughter had been raped and molested by at least three different men on three separate occasions in another camp.  I happened to be there reporting another story so after, I went to find this woman.  I’ll call her Marie.

My translator’s face froze at a few points during the interview, which lasted about 45 minutes. Marie’s daughter was bright and cheery, giggling while taking pictures of her younger brothers and sisters with my digicam (it was upside down most of the time) while us four adults sat cross-legged on the ground.  After a bit of chit-chat I asked the fourth adult, a male member of the camp committee who showed us to the tent, to leave.  No fuss displayed but I’d basically come into someone’s house, his camp, and asked him to scram.  My translator went outside to smooth that over.  On his return, alone, Marie sat up and started talking like I’d flipped a switch.

In my mind, her story is a stand-in for those of the mothers of another camp, Tapis Rouge, where a woman leader said in reply to my direct question, “There’s no rape but a lot of our teen girls are pregnant.”

The first man that “wasted” Marie’s daughter (her word, not the translator’s) was a friend. Of the three it is this violation of trust along with her child’s body, that hurts most.

The man would ask her, because he has a baby too and he has a tent. He said could you send your daughter to watch my baby, I’m going to be stepping out for a few minutes.  She found that, it was no problem. She would send the daughter to go watch and he would lay her down and have sex with her.

Marie found the second man, a 22-year-old, fingering her daughter.

When she saw that, she hold on to him and then got him arrested. Put him to jail.

The man was released and returned to the same camp, near the airport.  Marie needed papers to certify that this man had indeed molested her daughter.  At one point, Marie said a doctor had the papers.  In the same sentence, she said they were being prepared.  I did not follow up on these details.

Flore encountered the third man when she went to the restroom one day. She never came back.

When she came back, the mom was going to beat her because she came back so late.  The daughter ran to a neighbor’s tent and stayed there. The next day the mother came back, got her daughter and checked her daughter and she said her inside was so… she said, open.  And then she asked the daughter, what happened to you? And the daughter said, while I went to the bathroom there was this man that held me and had sex with me.

Marie checked her daughter, she said, because of how Flore looked when she went into the neighbor’s tent.  She just knew.  Flore allowed her mother to look between her legs but refused to say what happened to her.  She talked however, after Marie took a machete to her throat and threatened to slit it.  When I asked why, Marie said, I wanted her to say the truth.  My translator emphasized, say.

By now, the camp–where other “incidents” have been occurring, Marie said–knows what is going on.  She presumed that “the organization people…couldn’t handle this situation anymore.”  On Friday, someone told her that she was to be moved right away.**  That is how she came to be here, sitting this rainy evening in a proper tent–not flyaway blue sheets nailed to rough wood poles–with a thin blanket for a sleeping area and enough boxes of MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) to feed her children for two maybe three weeks.

Marie feels now like she is “living” but doesn’t know if she will stay in this place. She hustles. After the earthquake, which killed the father of her children (all her children, she emphasized early on) Marie sold small bottles of mayo, oil and butter on busy sidewalks.  Out here, she doesn’t know how she will make any money. There’s nothing around for miles except for other displaced families.

Flore was supposed to take a shot, Marie said, but too many days had passed between the rape in question and the doctor’s visit.  She couldn’t have the shot anymore.  What the shot was, or its purpose, Marie said the doctors never told her.  Next, doctors prescribed medication to Flore.  However Marie doesn’t make enough money to feed her five children.  She never filled the prescription.

Flore is outside in the rain with my camera.  Some of the pictures are clear.

**Editor’s note: It’s likely that the doctor who examined Flore had friends in high places.  Those 10 tents were reserved, I was told, especially for the most extreme cases.  It’s possible that the shot Flore was supposed to take within a certain time period after being raped was ARVs for HIV prevention.

22 Responses to “A Haitian mother opens up about her child’s repeat rapes in a camp”

  1. Thank you for posting this story! It is too often underreported. When I was in Haiti in March this was such a compelling understory and told people that yes, it is ok to talk about it. It happens in the camps all the time, especially when the moms go to work. It happened all the time in the places people lived before the camps too. I remember Dr Eddy Delaleu’s rushing a three-year-old girl with a ruptured rectum from an orphanage who had been seen a couple times in the Operation Hope for the Children of Haiti Mobile Clinics to the Adventist Hospital ER with a group and serious conversations among the medical volunteers as to what had happened to her. I had to look no further than her older brothers roughly handling a teddy bear her size to get my answer. The orphanage employee repeatedly restated to doctors, even a Haitian-Canadian traumatologist she had found the girl that way, that nothing had happened. That beautiful girl and the fear in her eyes has stayed with me. It’s one of the reasons that when Eddy asked me to support his campaign I said yes and one of the reasons why social media is so important in Haiti. The light needs to shine on the darkness that is prevelant in our world.

    • Readers: Dr. Eddy Delaleu, whom Claire mentions above, is a presidential candidate in Haiti.

      Claire, thanks for stopping by. I’m still not sure how I feel about writing this story here. Does it really help? I’d like to see stories like these galvanize Haiti activists to pressure government to resolve land/housing issues. Or, get creative and establish women-only camps. Something… other than me shining a light on this little girl *after the fact.* There’s much that can be done to reduce, though not eradicate, this danger to women, girls and quiet as it’s kept, boys.

      • Carla,

        I hear you and agree there is a lot more to do for boys and girls. The Spirits of Haiti and Gaia are crying out for this to stop. Your writing this story is a step in that direction. I felt really pressured to go to Haiti in March and wrestled a lot with feelings of worth- was it better for me to send $100 than get a typhoid shot? I am not medical- should I have put a strain on scarce resources by being yet another human on the island? I’m a 40-year-old single mom, aren’t my days of international work on pause? As time goes on and I catch the vision of the Haitian nation and my role I know that I am an important part of a collective and am delighted to get to know more who say yes to that call to bring forth the New Earth.

        I’m also just remembering a book a friend of mine who was a human rights attorney in Central America wrote when I lived there “The Never Ending” about did there really need to be more mass graves that more human rights attorneys documented so that more committees against injustice could be formed and more policy written. That’s along the lines of “does it really help?” YES- I am not aware of more mass graves in that region even though there was a 2009 coup in Honduras.

        And yes, absolutally- the UN plan does not work and more communication via eyewitness acounts and testimonies is vital.

        Humanity is so overdue a reset button.

  2. @Marcia: What exactly is your organization doing to remedy this situation. Are your efforts geared towards law enforcement or coping mechanisms?
    Rap,
    haiti.foreignpolicyblogs.com

  3. Good points Carla. In my view, Haiti is a lawless land right now. I think the aid organizations operating there now are are too focused in the humanitarian efforts; hence, overlooking other problems. It’s unfortunate and shameful that young girls have to go through these traumatic non-sensical issues. It’s a lose-lose situation for them when you factor in STDs, early pregnancy, and the trauma. There should be a system in place not only to help prevent those atrocities but to help those teens and soon to be mothers cope with the enormous changes they face in an already a battered life,
    Rap

    • Hey Rap, glad you replied. Have to say, Flore was taken out of harm’s way by int’l aid organizations as well as well-placed Haitians within the int’l aid community.

      If you want to make sure Haitian women and children are safer, work on resolving housing/land issues. You won’t improve the former without the latter.

      Housing/land issues… that ball’s in the government’s court. Contact the appropriate ministry. Or, holler at Preval/Bellerive/Clinton.

      • I was talking more about a short term fix until these land disputes are resolved. There are 24,000 foreign troops in Haiti now. Something could probably be done.Your point is well taken.
        Rap,
        haiti.foreignpolicyblogs.com

      • I see where you’re going but I gotta pull you back. History shows that policing a country with foreign troops is rarely a good idea for its citizens. The way Haitians feel about MINUSTAH, I can’t imagine what would go down if they were mobilized to pursue something as sensitive as rape accusations. Haitians have to police each other. Key word: police, not troops.

      • Haitians haven’t been running this country for a long time, but most importantly, I’d like to ask which they would prefer: a stop to the crimes or troops in Haiti. However, Haiti is still a sovereign state, so I guess Police would be make more sense. There are more pressing matters than the usual political nonsense. People are suffering. That girl is only 10. Preval is not running the country and in my view it makes no difference who enforce the law as long as some of those girls get help. I’m not trying to be politically correct here. LOL!

      • I feel you. People are suffering and many of them are children like Flore. But that’s never a reason to act on emotion, not reason–especially when more lives would be endangers by the action.

      • Emotion is hardly the issue here but I get your point. I’m sure there could be some comprehensive plan where people are made aware of what’s going on and how to move forward as they actively take part in efforts to eradicate the unscrupulous among them. it’s fun chatting with you, Carla. We’re fighting the same fight and causes. I hope you can find some time to look me up on the Foreign Policy Association. haiti.foreignpolicyblogs.com
        Rap,

  4. Great question, is this a widespread problem. Makes me wonder, how would they count? Who would do the counting? How reliable would the counting be?

    So I come to an answer by asking another question: What systems are in place in Haiti to deter, lower or prevent the chances that rape will occur?

    Housing: in camps, ppl are living on top of each other; there are no private/separate bathing or toilet facilities for women or girls; women and girls can’t retreat to wood homes with lockable doors and windows.

    Justice: after much battle, Haiti got its first anti-rape law in 2005; how receptive are police to pursuing rape cases?; how receptive are communities to punishing their men who’re accused of these crimes? what legal hurdle must a woman meet before convincing someone to pursue her case? especially after the quake, does the National Police even have the manpower?

    Economics: are women/girls in positions that make them vulnerable to trading sex for food? Money?

    Culture: what is defined or understood as rape, here? Do women or girls feel like they can say, no? Do women or girls feel like they can report the violation to authorities and have them act on it?

    Depending on how you answer the above questions, that’ll get you closer to answering your own.

    Best, C.

  5. Christ King Of kings Network is addressing violence against women and children with catholic and christian new media IT consultants. We are working with a core team in Haiti and are inviting anyone who is in mobile IT or medicine to contact us, to help address these kinds of rapes in Haiti. If you think you may be interested in participating with us, to link doctors and victims directly with mobile technology, email: kingofkingsnetwork@gmail.com. Grace and peace, Marcia Lynn

    • @Marcia: What exactly is your organization doing to remedy this situation. Are your efforts geared towards law enforcement or coping mechanisms?
      Rap,
      haiti.foreignpolicyblogs.com

  6. This is a sad story. On top of all of their problems, they have to deal with this as well. Is this a widespread problem in those camps or is it sporadic? What is the police doing to remedy the situation?

  7. Carla,
    Thank you for your work without which this story wouldn’t be so impactful. I know the difficulties of being exposed to such sadness on a daily basis. You have tremendous strength. Keep this candle burning.
    Rap.

  8. Thanks. I appreciate this note. Weird to realize this but, I’m good at getting people to cry. Happened more than once, there. What a thing to be good at, eh?

  9. Carla,
    Have to give credit where it’s due. You did the reporting, not me. From my perspective, it’s a sad situation reported truthfully, so it provoked a lot of raw emotions. May be what you’re good at is accurate reporting, not making people cry. Your last post suggests that you’re doing a lot better. You even sound like you’re ready to get down to business. i could be wrong.
    Best,
    Rap

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