The May 20 letter to the editor Corruption and cronyism hold Haiti back speaks of most Haitians continuing to live in abject poverty with no electricity, drinkable water or sanitation. While these statements are true, it is important to note that women in Haiti are the ones suffering the greatest indignities from the situation. Living in unprotected areas has resulted in alarming rates of sexual violence.
Mayla Villard-Appolon was one of hundreds of thousands of women displaced and living in the camps in Port-au-Prince. As a victim of rape, Villard-Appolon knew how to respond to the physical, emotional and psychological trauma endured by these victims. In fact, all of Villard-Appolon‘s colleagues at KOFAVIV (The Commission of Women Victims for Victims) are themselves survivors of sexual violence.
Immediately responding to the threefold increase in sexual violence after the earthquake, KOFAVIV partnered with international organizations such as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, MADRE and the Goldin Institute to launch the Haitian Camp Security and Sensitization Project. This women-led program helped stop sexual violence in the Place Petion camp and is a model of effective partnership at the grassroots level. Villard-Appolon earned recognition as CNN 2012 Hero of the Year for her heroic work. However, much work remains to be done. For Villard-Appolon, her organization and coworkers, the tragedy continues.
Recently, the KOFAVIV offices have had to relocate because of threats and attacks. Villard-Appolon and her family have been accosted on the streets in Haiti because of her work, so have the brave women who have come forth to identify and testify against their attackers. The accused rapists want her to drop charges and prosecution, which she will not do. As recently as May 21, the women officers of KOFAVIV received death threats saying: “As you are wicked, Organization of Women thieves, you put a woman in jail, and you do not want to release her, if she dies, you will die too.”
Since Villard-Appolon and Marie Eramithe Delva started KOFAVIV in 2004, during the past 10 years the organization has helped more than 4,000 rape survivors find safety, psychological support and legal aid. Villard-Appolon, as the many other women suffering from gender-based violence, needs our help.
Public awareness is a crucial first step. Write your congressional representatives for further help and assistance to Haiti, especially programs that are run by local Haitian women.
Alicia Cubota Smith, president, Florida Biscayne Bay Chapter, World Wings International, Miami Beach