But that pain pales in comparison to the torment of learning last March that her 5-year-old granddaughter had been raped.
The attacker gave the child about
"How did that happen? How did that happen?" Lagunesse, 50, cried, wringing her hands.
"This situation does something to their minds and makes people sick," she said. "Their hearts are bad."
Hers is a tragedy of rape compounded: Her granddaughter, now 6, was conceived in the gang rape of her daughter.
Rape wasn't even considered a serious criminal offense in
The women who pushed for the legislation making it so also built
Haitian women are the poorest and most disenfranchised in this poorest of nations in the hemisphere. And yet, through the work of a spirited coterie of feminist activists, real strides were being made.
So much has been lost.
And there were so many more, equally and less famous, midwives, nuns and professors, peasant leaders and government officials, all who worked for women. All gone.
"It was a very big loss," activist
The young men were watching
They went to her tent and seemed to know she would be alone. Her mother had left for the countryside in search of food.
Three of them. They wore masks. They threw her to the dirt floor. They kicked her in the ribs and slapped her face.
"If you tell anyone," one of her attackers threatened, "we will kill your brother or your sister."
After the rape, Simone, 23, sought medical attention. Then an organization that helps rape victims, Kofaviv, took her under its wing and gave her psychological counseling.
But she still lives in the plastic-tarp tent, and her attackers lurk, murmuring their threats, watching her. "I feel very unsafe," said the young woman, whose bright eyes widen as she tells her story. "I have nowhere else to go. I am tortured."
Rape has long been a scourge in
The earthquake generated new shockwaves of sexual violence. Hundreds, maybe thousands — there is no comprehensive count — have been raped. Some of the assaults are crimes of opportunity, but increasingly they seem a calculated, predatory form of stalking and attacking.
Only a few of an estimated 1,300 tent encampments that are spread through this shattered capital have nighttime lighting or significant police presence. Tents do not have doors or locks. People are jammed together in dehumanizing density without privacy.
Social networks and family unity have been destroyed by death and flight; children are often alone and unsupervised as their parents, if they have them, spend days searching for sustenance. The institutions of law and order, to the extent they ever had influence, have crumbled.
Young women are easy prey for uneducated, unemployed men who populate the camps, often stoned and with time on their hands. They see women and girls as fair game. Many women have denounced camp leaders, always male, for demanding sexual favors in return for tents, food and building materials.
Activists are now bracing for a jump in teen
pregnancies and HIV and AIDS cases, whether from rape or unprotected
sex, since clinics that dispensed birth control and advice were also
destroyed. The United Nations estimates that
"We started receiving reports of rapes from the very first day after the quake," said
"Women, I know you lift a lot of buckets of water. It's not enough. Work your arms!"
Several women's groups are taking action to confront the violence. International and national organizations have joined forces to arrange training sessions, psychological counseling and legal advice. Kofaviv, which lost about 10 percent of its membership as well as its headquarters to the quake, sends "agents" into the camps to find women who have been attacked, averaging two cases a day. (And that, all involved say, is but a tip of the iceberg.)
Women have been given whistles and taught to use them.
Three short toots means, "I am being attacked."
One long toot: "I have found someone who has been raped and needs immediate help."
Before 2005, rape was considered an offense against honor, or "crime of passion," meaning it was a minor infraction in which the perpetrator would go free if he agreed to marry his victim. Then it was elevated into a serious crime with penalties. In addition, victims were allowed to seek care at any health facility, instead of the main state hospital, and no longer had to pay for the examination.
Still, victims are stigmatized, abusers rarely caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
"Some of these men have the same old mentality," said
The voodoo priestesses thumped drums and lighted candles as they chanted the names.
"They were real fighters," Philistin, the activist, said. "Every woman in
At this memorial ceremony on the first anniversary of the quake, huge photos of
Merlet also wrote, collecting stories about Haitian women and campaigning to have streets named for some of the prominent ones. Marcelin once packed a courtroom with angry women to pressure for a guilty verdict against a politically connected man accused of beating his wife. Both had fought against Jean-Claude Duvalier's brutal regime, and each had spent time in exile or in hiding.
"Every day we try to recover and to replace them," said
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