Globally, sexual violence (SV) impacts 25-33% of women, is often perpetrated by intimate partners and occurs even post-disasters. The 2010 Haiti earthquake occasioned a SV epidemic in Cité Soleil, where over 50% of females are reportedly victims of SV via non-intimate partners/strangers (NPSV). Little is known about the psychological effects of SV perpetrated by NPSV; even less in known about the biopsychosocial consequences of NPSV on women in Haiti. Yet, the World Health Organization recently called for research on NPSV, particularly in poor and disaster-affected countries.
As a first step in categorizing the consequences of NPSV on female victims in Haiti, we conducted 2 focus groups of 16 female residents of Cité Soleil who survived the earthquake and its aftershocks, along with ensuing hurricanes and cholera.
Participants reported rapes by strangers who intentionally "crush the uterus." All endorsed criteria for PTSD, including enduring physiological, neurological and psychological symptoms: significant intrusive, avoidance, arousal, cognitive, mood changes, as well as significant distress/impairment in various areas of functioning; and all but one became pregnant from the experience. All denied substance use and other illness that is not associated with the sexual violence.
Our study was exploratory, targeting a small sample of women in one specific neighborhood and cannot be generalized to all SV victims in Haiti.
Following earthquakes, there should be vigilance by public health officials and rescue teams for prevention of SV against women. Women who survive SV in Haiti should be provided access to trauma-informed care that addresses biological consequences of the SV, as well as biological, neurological and psychological sequelae.