Domestic and Sexual Violence in Haiti: What does $24 Mil. Appropriated from US Congress Last year get? By:  Valerie G. Dirksen

 

Domestic and Sexual Violence in Haiti: What does $24 Mil. Appropriated from US Congress Last year get?

By:  Valerie G. Dirksen, President International Children’s Rights Advocates Society- www.icras8.com

Report after report acknowledges there is a problem that has caused a public health crisis to develop that threatens the future of Haiti.  Through the years there have been several predators exposed and most brought to justice. Who are these people, and why have they chosen Haiti to practice their crimes?  Did they misunderstand “Haiti Cherie — Open for Business” campaign by the former administration? Actually, Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean has long been known to be a destination for sex tourism.  Sex between consenting adults (age of consent in Haiti is 18) is not an issue. But when you have mission tourists come to stay at guest houses run by orphanages, and minor orphaned and abandoned children being abused by sexual predators who have not been background checked, there is a problem.

Haitian Centre for Research and Actions for the Advancement of Women conducted one of the earliest studies on abuse in 1996 which was financed by UNICEF.  Physical, sexual, psychological, social, financial and political violence inflicted on women and girls was included in the study. Basically, they discovered that 70% of Haitian women stated that they had suffered some form of violence.  A 2000 study, which was repeated in 2005 and 2007 showed similar results. Odly, men claimed they had not committed any violence against women, however they did admit they felt some of the violence was justified. Wait….what? Interestingly, sexual abuse of boys was not included.  Perhaps because it continues to be under reported throughout the world, not only Haiti. Boys, not wanting to be seen as homosexual, or weak, have a hard time speaking about this violation to their body. Most are not able to speak about it until after 30 years of age. What they discovered, was no matter what, “victims and their families have no confidence in the ability of the justice system to right the wrongs committed, and are often mistreated when attempting to avail themselves of judicial remedies.  This combination of factors leaves the victims with a sense of insecurity, defenselessness and mistrust in the administration of justice”. For this reason, most foreigners who come to the country to commit these crimes, are prosecuted in their own countries. Recently, the UK, Canada and the United States sentenced predators who had preyed on the vulnerable children of Haiti; the orphans and abandoned children.

Does Haiti have sufficient legal protections for victims?  Are citizens, protected under their constitution? Do people understand their rights?  Are these basic lessons in civics even taught in schools? I know the schools lag behind due to the lack of funds. Wait, wasn’t the money for schools supposed to come from the $1.50 transfer fees (I mean really $2) from Western Union?  I hope Sophia Martelly is enjoying it right now. At least her children received a great education. Isn’t that what most mothers want for their children?. Bogus schools were created, perhaps more on this in a later article. Is there an Education Minister to pay a visit to?  I would love to meet for coffee to discuss what I have unfortunately witnessed. It seems every time there is a solution, it is discounted into corruption, and you hear the all too familiar phrase, “well that’s Haiti”! I must admit, I didn’t know what that meant until I worked with a group of brave victims of severe abuse at the hands of an American who operated three homes for over 30 years.  Different groups of victims stepped up to report the abuse to the local police, mandatory reporters who frequented the homes as mission tourists, and even the Counselor Officers at the US Embassy. In fact, one of the USAID directors at the embassy was on his board of directors. How brave of the victims and witnesses to do, since they do not have parents to speak back them. I can tell you the story brought a seasoned Haitian diplomat to tears, after hearing of the plight of these victims.  They are the heroes of Haiti. My hope for Haiti is with them, because they will not give up. Who does that remind you of?

How can we education the public in Haiti of their Rights?  They certainly are aware of the events that led up to 1804.  Why has justice eluded these people? In Haiti, the law prohibits rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime.  The penalty for this is 10 years of forced labor, increasing to a mandatory 15 years if the survivor was less than 16 years old, or if the rapist was a person of authority.  In the case of gang rape, the maximum penalty is lifelong forced labor. Actual sentences were often less rigorous and prosecution frequently was not pursued due to lack of reporting and follow-up on survivors’ claims.  The DCPJ currently has several cases they are working on, but they are not known for speed.

Haiti’s penal code, article 279, (but since an executive decree in 2005) renders the act a crime rather than a violation of public decency.  Since it does not specifically criminalize marital rape, it leaves judges and prosecutors and law enforcement open to selectively apply or ignore the rape law.  It also fails to define rape or sexual assault, which causes inconsistent application. Haiti’s constitution guarantees the right to life, health and personal security, as well as freedom from discrimination.  These important rights are not adequately protected under the current legislation.

Haiti is part of several international treaties that require states to combat domestic and sexual violence.  These include, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention , Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, among others.  Many reports have described serious deficiencies in Haitian authorities ability or willingness to investigate and prosecute domestic and sexual violence allegations. They are mandated to do this, but have cited lack of funds. Don’t you think the $24 mil. appropriated to the government of Haiti would cover this?

Just because you were party to a treaty does not mean respect for, protection of and fulfillment of  human rights. Some of the challenges include limited reporting and oversight mechanisms, and the ability for states to attach reservations to their ratifications.  One main complaint, is that for sexual assault cases, a medical report must be completed within 72 hours from a state run hospital. Have you ever been to one of those hospitals?  I took a group to the state hospital in PAP recently, and the examination rooms were dirty, internationally accepted hygiene protocols were not followed, and there were corpses in the hallway for days.  I believe american pets receive better care at the veterinary clinics here. Imagine suffering the trauma of a rape, and having to endure that without an advocate to help you. These are the patients that Dr. Wilcox Toyo sees in his private practice in PAP. “We forget about the needs of these orphaned and abandoned children, who are shunned by the community for causing problems.  This is Haiti’s dirty secret, and we are supposed to continue to keep quiet. Thankfully, caring advocates like ICRAS, and Valerie Dirksen want that to all change. No more meetings, or luncheons, or bracelets or backpacks or photo ops. The time for action is NOW!” “We are always trying to raise funds for our mental health program. We need to strengthen the current rape laws to include specific mention of marital rape and adopt the internationally recognized definition of rape and sexual assault.  This includes adoption of certain laws already proposed in the Haitian parliament. The next step would be criminalized domestic violence and sexual harassment, another problem in our community.”

It is time to strengthen the capacity of its institutions to better respond to complaints of abuse, to ensure these crimes don’t go unpunished.  There is a lot of work to be done, and ultimately, the most long lasting gains will come from the Haitians, changing their attitudes throughout the country.

One successful vehicle to prosecuting these predators  in the US, has been enforcing the Protect Act of 2003 (Pub.L 108-21,117 Stat. 650, S 151, enacted April 30, 2003).  This US law’s main intent is to prevent child abuse as well as invesigate and prosecute violent crimes against children.  “PROTECT” is an acronym which stands for Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today”.  This act incorporates the Truth in Domain Names Act (TDNA) of 2003 which was originally two separate bills, submitted by Senator Orrin Hatch and Congressman Mike Pence, and codified 18 USC § 2252(B)(b).

The world has been watching Haiti.  Haiti has several bad marks to deal with, including allowing predators to escape to run orphanages in neighboring Dominican Republic, and looking the other way as the American’s escaped arrest at the Kailiko Beach Resort.  This was hard to watch. The world felt embarrassed for the Haitians, because the message that was sent was, “we know our children are being abused, and we don’t care.” The other message sent to victims was, “don’t even try to seek justice”!  One predator, hounded his victims every day, by saying, “don’t even think about reporting this to the authorities, because I worked with Mother Teresa, and you are a liar, cheater, stealer, and no one will believe you”! That is what Dr. Toyo has been working to deprogram the victims of this abuse.  The first day of healing for victims, is when their abuser is convicted. Until that time, they are forced to carry the box of rocks around with them everywhere they go.  #whataboutme!  Please think about the children, as they are the future of the planet.

*Valerie Dirksen is – President, International Children’s Rights Advocate’s Society –  www.icras8.com

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