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Haiti relief workers try to stem rape in refugee camps

As if providing food, shelter, and postquake health services wasn't tough enough, Haiti relief workers are also focusing on keeping women from being raped as frustrations grow in Port-au-Prince's tent cities.

A woman wipes off her daughter's shoes before she goes to school in a refugee camp in Port-au-Prince. There are officially 1.3 million people displaced by the magnitude-7 earthquake.

Ramon Espinosa/AP/File

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Two weekends ago, a 15-year old stayed out late with friends, trying to distract herself from the daily grind of life in one of the many tent camps that now dominate Haiti’s capital.

Just minutes after she zipped up her tent flap to turn in for the night, she heard it unzip. Five men she’d never seen before entered and told her that her evening was just about to begin.

When they were done beating and raping her, she crawled to a friend’s tent, but her friend told her it wasn’t safe to stay, so, bruised and frightened, she inched her way back home. Only at the urging of others did she eventually seek medical attention.

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The bite on her face is fading, but the psychological scars she has suffered may be harder to heal.

The case of this teenager – who declined to be named for this article – is not uncommon in Haiti’s postquake atmosphere, where security for women is tenuous at best.

Women make up more than half the population, 67 percent of whom are single heads of household. Daily rituals such as collecting water can be a risk since the rule of law is all but absent now. Lack of legal rights, inadequate support services, impunity, and dependency – all issues before the earthquake – have become exponentially worse since the Jan. 12 temblor leveled the capital, Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 and displacing more than 1 million.

How many have been raped?

The precise number of rape and domestic violence victims is difficult to determine, even with the increased presence of foreign and international medical organizations working in the camps.

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