PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — HAITIAN women, historically spared the brutalities inflicted on males, are being beaten and raped as violence escalates here. If not targeted for their own political activities, they often become victims in the absence of a marked husband, son, or father.
Last week five heavily armed men broke into the home of two brothers who lived in Cite Soleil, a seaside slum whose population remains loyal to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After killing both men, the group gang-raped the sister.
The United Nations Civilian Mission documenting human rights here has verified 32 rape cases since the beginning of the year, a third of which are gang-rapes. The Mission verified only three cases in 1993.
``Our previous findings have been confirmed by a number of new cases, and we have now established that a trend truly exists,'' says UN spokesman Eric Falt, who added that far fewer rape cases are reported than are committed.
An American anthropologist, who has worked extensively in Cite Soleil for the past 10 years, underscores Mr. Falt's suspicions. During a recent visit here she met with a group of 200 market women, 40 of whom told her they had been raped.
The anthropologist, who asked not to be named, rattled off examples she had heard: A 17-year-old girl gang-raped by seven men because they could not find her boyfriend, an active member of a pro-democracy organization; five women in a household in an Aristide stronghold assaulted by 20 members of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH); a three-month-old son beaten while his mother was being raped.
Many of the victims identified their attackers as members of the paramilitary group FRAPH. This coincides with the Mission's findings.
Victims have little if any recourse. In each of the 20-some cases documented by LaShawn Jefferson of the Washington-based Women's Rights Project/Human Rights Watch, the attackers were armed. None of the victims reported their cases.
``Few people know the crimes even happen because the victims have no faith they will receive justice under the current legal system,'' Ms. Jefferson explained during her research trip here. ``Furthermore, their greatest fear is that they'll suffer reprisals.''
A United States classified cable leaked to the press last month portrayed a different situation here. Not only did it say that human rights violations were exaggerated, but the cable questioned the ``sudden epidemic of rape,'' saying, ``we are, frankly, suspicious of the sudden high numbers of reported rapes.''
``This is unbelievable,'' said the leader of one local women's organization that has documented about 30 cases since the beginning of the year. ``No one needs to exaggerate anything. We're just telling it like it is. Rape is happening. We say it is a political tool meant to terrorize a population. Since the [September 1991] coup, the number of cases of women who have been raped can be directly linked to popular organizations.''
In addition to the rapes, the UN Civilian Mission has documented an average of 50 killings per month since the beginning of the year, though there was a slight dip in May.