Surviving gang violence in Haiti

Since February 29, the resurgence of violence in Port-au-Prince has resulted in thousands of deaths, injuries, and displacements. LWF Country Representative Prospery Raymond writes about the situation in the capital Port-au-Prince.

6 Jun 2024
A survivor of sexual violence in Haiti. Photo: LWF/ P. Raymond

A survivor of sexual violence in Haiti. Photo: LWF/ P. Raymond

Mr Prospery Raymond

Supporting survivors of gender-based violence

Life for the average person in Haiti remains extremely precarious, with gang violence devastating communities and disrupting lives. For many Haitians, simply existing and going about daily activities means navigating constant threats and traumatic experiences. Armed gangs control neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints and subjecting residents to searches and abuse.

With the resurgence of violence related to armed groups in Port-au-Prince on 29 February 2024, thousands have been killed or injured. More than 360,000 people were forced to flee their homes for safety. Coordinated attacks in several districts continue to affect hundreds of thousands of people

Rampant violence continues in several districts of Port-au-Prince, where coordinated attacks are affecting hundreds of thousands of people. On 10 May, an attack in the Gressier commune (West Department) caused the displacement of around 4,400 people.

Surge in sexual violence incidents

The number of survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) increased fivefold between the first two months of the year and March 2024, rising from 250 to 1,543. Sexual violence accounts for 75 per cent of the incidents reported (OCHA, on the 16th of May 2024).

The accounts shared here provide a sobering look at the realities on the ground, but also inspirational examples of resilience and the vital work being done to support survivors.

Psychologist Kate Ulysse paints a distressing picture of the violence playing out in areas like Croix des Bouquets and Cité Soleil near Port-au-Prince. "The different forms of violence people face include robberies, murders, rapes, intimidation and threats," she explains. Armed gangs exert control over neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints and subjecting residents to searches and abuse. "At that moment, anything is possible."

The impact on mental health is severe. Ulysse describes survivors grappling with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, anger and suicidal thoughts in the aftermath. "These women's psychological balance is delicate," she says. Many develop pathological conditions like panic attacks, reliving the trauma, and they "always feel in a state of imminent danger." The stigma and dislocation compound the harm, leaving some feeling they must abandon their communities entirely.

Despite the daunting challenges, local organizations like IDEJEN, ORRAH Service Chretien d’Haiti, and our joint office are doing vital work to protect survivors and help them reclaim their lives. Psychosocial support workers like 31-year-old Liliane Joseph provide a lifeline, conducting door-to-door outreach in hard-hit areas. "We had to open an office to receive survivors in complete confidentiality, so they feel confident to express themselves," Joseph explains. "The survivors need support, so they don't continue being victimized."

Empowerment is key, helping each woman "know that she is a person, and she has rights - and needs support to guide her to necessary services." This holistic approach encompasses psychological care but also economic empowerment, like the financial grants SCH provided. As Polone Cadet, a 49-year-old mother of three, expressed: "The support from SCH was very important and came at the right time... otherwise, we could die."

Giving a voice to the survivors

While sharing such traumatic accounts is undoubtedly difficult, giving voice to the survivors is crucial for driving awareness, empathy and action to address these crises. She was happy with the conversation and to see that people are interested in her story and what she is experiencing in her community." Joseph said about Cadet.

For Helena Prophete,* a young woman who became pregnant after a brutal gang rape at age 14, SCH provided a vital outlet: "I feel better. With SCH, I had this opportunity to find a space to talk, to discuss, and people who understand me." The young woman is now finishing high school and hoping to be a doctor in the future, to be able to support women and girls.

Ulysse underscores that supporting the psychosocial and economic needs of women and child survivors "is an expensive but essential program." NGOs and aid must prioritize Haiti's local organizations at the forefront of this work.

More resources needed

"Violence harms thousands of people and endangers the lives of thousands of women and children, and it is imperative to support survivors after this trauma so that they can rebuild and take their place in society." Ulysse emphasizes. While the road ahead remains long, survivors like Cadet plead: "May God change the situation in Haiti, and may the leaders find a way to agree and provide security in the country."

Several critical steps are necessary to effectively address the issue of violence against women and children:

  • Increased Funding: Allocate adequate resources to support organizations providing essential services to survivors, including medical care, psychological counseling, legal aid, and economic support.
  • Improved Coordination: Foster collaboration among various organizations involved in addressing violence against women and children to ensure seamless access to services and prevent duplication of efforts.
  • Prevention Strategies: Implement comprehensive prevention programs that promote gender equality, respect for women and girls, and challenge harmful social norms that perpetuate violence.
  • Support for Survivors: Provide tailored support services to survivors, considering their individual needs and circumstances, including medical care, psychological counseling, legal assistance, and economic empowerment opportunities.
  • Community Engagement: Engage community members, including men and boys, in awareness-raising campaigns and prevention initiatives to foster a culture of respect and non-violence.
  • Strengthening the Justice System: Ensure accountability for perpetrators of violence against women and children by strengthening the justice system and ensuring fair and timely prosecution.

The situation in Haiti is dire, but with concerted efforts we can work towards ending the cycle of violence that plagues Haiti.

In the LWF-NCA joint office, we urge you to join us in this fight by raising awareness, supporting organizations working on the ground, and advocating for policies that promote gender equality, protect human rights, and build a more just and peaceful society in Haiti.

Together, we can make a difference.

Mr Prospery Raymond

Country Representative for the Joint office (LWF-NCA-DKH) in Haiti

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.