This interview, presented here in an edited version, was conducted March 30 with Eramithe Delva and Malya Villard, leaders with the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV), at their camp in Champs-de-Mars, a plaza in Port-au-Prince. Founded in 2004, KOFAVIV supports some 1,150 women survivors of rape and violence. Since the earthquake they have redoubled their efforts, focusing especially on establishing security within the camps.
You don’t have security here.
Delva: In a big camp like this, there should be some surveillance from time to time, but there isn’t that! A young man came inside the camp to rape a child of ours here. When we went to the police station right here, they don’t even come, and they never even conducted an investigation when I explained the problem: This guy took the child to run away with her, to rape her. A police officer said, “I can’t say anything. That’s [Haitian president René] Préval’s problem. Préval has to get involved.”
It’s a problem with Préval? But he’s a police officer!
Delva: Yes, that’s what I told him. I told him, I don’t understand when you said that it’s up to Préval. I heard that the police were supposed to “protect and serve.” I asked him if we who live in the camps need to live like animals. Don’t we deserve security? Then he said someone else was going to protect us. Another police officer said we should go to the plaza, and if we see a car numbered 1-417, we could explain our case and the officer there would tell us what he could do for us. Now we see nothing really is going to happen. The police did nothing.
Villard: Someone called a group of 20 people who came on a pickup truck and forced the guy to leave. That evening we slept under a gallery and slept in the street, in St. Honoré. With all the young women, we were forced to sleep under a gallery. The next morning we thought to ourselves, Where are we going? If we had a place we would have definitely left the camp, but we didn’t have anywhere. When we returned, a group of people gave us protection here.
Delva: But that’s why we can’t sleep. You’re always thinking at night; even when you feel like dozing off, the smallest noise keeps you up because you’re looking around because you don’t want other people to come inside and rape the children. You are prevented from sleeping. You can’t sleep. You can’t get tired because you need to keep an eye out for men who can come inside and rape your child. It’s a very bad life! Bad life! And all this time, many children submit to violence in the camp. Little children. Just now a little child showed up, and I believe she is only 14. Another girl of 12 was raped in the stadium by a man of 28.
And people didn’t call for help?
Villard: A crowd killed the person who raped the 12-year-old. They called for help, and people came and stoned him to death. . . . When someone pulls a gun, a girl can’t even call for help. She is forced to obey and let the person do what he wants. Even when someone is sleeping, the person comes inside her tent, and he sleeps with her. And if you open your eyes, you see the person; he’s there. He rapes your child or your mother in front of you, and you can’t do anything because he’s got a gun in your ear. And you can’t see anyone who can bring about a measure of security.
Delva: When this rape occurred here in the Champs-de-Mars camp, representatives of Amnesty International were here. They went with us to the police station to make an intervention. They made a formal declaration with the victim, and they wrote about the situation of people in the camp. So now the police came by twice, after this act. But then we never see them again.
You mean, since January 12, the police only came by twice?
Delva: They came to the camp twice, but maybe they patrolled the perimeter. It’s an urgent problem. Because the day of the earthquake, January 12, the prison wasn’t destroyed but it was opened, people let out. You don’t know where the key went because it was open. Everyone who was in prison—rapists, thieves, bandits—are all outside. So this is an urgent situation! Now, if police were killed in the earthquake, they need reinforcements.
Villard: In the Bòlos neighborhood, 4th and 5th street above, men appeared with guns when a little girl was with her mother. They took the girl and raped her. Not just one person, but many people raped her. We met with our community leaders, we call them “agents,” to find out how many rapes occurred in the camps. In Matisan [Martissant, a popular neighborhood that is often the site of gang warfare] alone there were 80 rapes since the earthquake. Here in the plaza we can say there were 22.
And the government didn’t do anything?
Villard: No. And it wasn’t the government that gave us lights. After the rapist came here, some other guy came here with a little electrical wire under his tent. He said he would give us some electricity at night to keep the lights on, so we could see if someone tries to break in. But it wasn’t the government who installed it. But even if there’s a light, the bandits just cut the cord, creating a blackout, to do what they are doing.
In Matisan, in order to get the food ration cards, young girls are forced to sleep with bandits. And sometimes they never get it. The guys just enter, steal the tent, and rape the girls. That’s all.
Delva: Why is it these hard-up guys get the cards to distribute? Now [the NGOs] are using them to distribute the cards. And they don’t give the cards to the women. So now even a young girl in need is forced to sleep with the person for a little card. What does she get with this card? A little rice.
Villard: Not too long ago a foreigner came here and met with us and said that they were going to distribute aid. People had to go out to this place to come to a meeting. The aid was for the elderly. But after this, what do they get? A little bit of broken rice. With the money to pay the transport, they could have bought this broken rice. They made people burn in the sun for nothing.
And they give out these scratchy blankets. From four or five in the morning, or even 2 a.m. or 11 p.m., people stand in line. And while they’re standing in line for all this time, this is what they give to people: two scratchy blankets and a little bit of fabric in a backpack. Make people stand in the sun, wait in line to give them this little pittance.
Delva: They treat us like animals! Animals! Because there are animals who can’t sleep on this scratchy thing. And people get assaulted too when they are in line. The women are standing in line, and these vagabonds come and put up a fight and take the goods. So women call the police and the crowds disperse as people run away. Because the bandits don’t give people the chance to get anything despite the fact that they just suffered in the sun. The bandits don’t let people advance in line to get the goods. Like the cards we’re speaking of, even when the person has a cart in her hand, the bandits force themselves on her, pull a gun on her for her to give out the card. So now he has a monopoly. That is, he will just give out the cards to whomever he wants. You understand? The woman doesn’t like it. In order to get a card you need to sleep with them. To get a tent you need to sleep with them.
And what do you do now to keep going faced with all this? What do you do?
Delva: You are forced. You don’t have a choice. You are forced to resign yourself because you don’t know what you can do. When you’re a victim, you don’t have a place to go. Even if you find an organization that helps out, for example, you get there, they write a report, and you have to file a complaint. For them to arrest someone, you need to file a complaint. But where will you go with it? The court is destroyed.