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Rape in Haiti’s Tent Cities

Devastating.

That’s the adjective used most often to describe the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th. I have even used it in a script or two.

And devastated is what I feel when I think of a five-year-old girl named Giovannie.

Soon after the earthquake, Giovannie’s mother asked her to go fetch a can of rice. A man followed her. Giovannie says he looked like a uniformed guard. He swept her up and took her to his home. And took advantage of her.

A five-year-old girl.

When reporter Jessica Desvarieux and I met her in the tent city near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Giovannie had a cold. Her grandmother used her little sailor’s hat to wipe her nose as the beautiful child recounted what happened to her in January. The sadness in her eyes, not fully comprehending what occurred, but knowing it was terrible, haunts me.

Giovannie is not alone. Her grandmother says she was also raped several years ago. And Giovannie’s mother was raped. And there are so many more women and girls who have suffered similar attacks.

Volunteers who work with women in the tent cities of Port-au-Prince told us that rape is on the rise in the cramped communities. The women of KOFAVIV, or the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, go tent to tent, warning of the dangers, and all too often find women who have already been assaulted. The tent cities are pitch black at night. There’s little security presence. And a trip to the bathroom late at night can make any woman or girl vulnerable to attack.

I can only hope that over time Giovannie will forget. She’ll put the experience in the context of a child’s viewpoint. And that she’ll experience such great joys in the coming years that the terrible event will pale in comparison.

I have to believe that.
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