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Rape adds to Haitian camp woes

Marie found her mother buried in the rubble of her family home days after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti two years ago.

Returning to the displacement camp that night, she was followed by a gang of men who covered her head with a plastic bag and raped her, one after the other. At 19, she was left pregnant and desperate.

Photojournalist Nadav Neuhaus has documented the lives of a dozen young women who told him they had been raped in the aftermath of the earthquake, changing their lives forever.

“My dream was that my mom and dad would pay for me to go to university, so I could learn something,” Marie said in a video interview. “I’m interested in being a nurse. (But now) I see my future going horribly.”

Unable to afford the morning-after pill prescribed by the local hospital, she ended up giving birth to her first child in a tent inside the camp.

Her story is not uncommon.

"All these girls had a house before," Neuhaus said. "They had a family; they had protection. Then the earthquake came and they found themselves in tents. Their life changed in a day. ... They lost everything."

An estimated half a million people still live in Haiti’s tent cities. Conditions in the overcrowded camps with poor lighting and a lack of security have made women more vulnerable to rape, a longstanding political weapon in the country.

“Until these factors are addressed, sexual violence is likely to continue,” said Yifat Susskind, the executive director of the women’s rights group MADRE.

The United Nations Population Fund found that the birthrate in some camps tripled in the months after the earthquake.

Neuhaus discovered the issue after he noticed an unusually high number of pregnancies at one of the camps in Port-au-Prince. At first none of the residents wanted to talk about it but he slowly earned their trust, returning for weeks at a time over the course of a year.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many women have been raped in the camps. The victims often feel ashamed or threatened, leading to the crimes being under reported.

Approximately 640 cases were recorded in 2010, according to KOFAVIV, a nonprofit organization established by rape survivors in Haiti. Another 549 women reported being sexually assaulted between January 2011 and February 2012.

One woman told Neuhaus how her 11-year-old daughter was repeatedly raped by their neighbor. She reported it to the police, but the man disappeared. The family has since been transferred to another camp.

Back at his home in New York, Neuhaus says it’s hard to leave behind the victims he met.

"This is my hope: That one day they will have dignity and they will be independent, on their own, and they can send their kids to school," he said. "That would be amazing."

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

Watch Nadav Neuhaus' video report on rape in post-earthquake Haiti.