Haiti: Giving girls a way out

Supporting teenage sex workers has helped Sherli to feel strong again after she was attacked in a displaced persons camp

Sherli, 20, an only child, lost both her parents in the earthquake.

“I found a tent in a camp close to the destroyed presidential palace,” Sherli recalls. “At the beginning there was nothing – no water, no food. I had sex with men to survive.”

A month after the earthquake, Sherli was raped. “A man came into my tent late at night and asked if he could shelter from the rain,” she says.

“When I said no, he got angry. He took out a gun then kicked me repeatedly in the stomach. He said he would kill me if I made a noise. Then I was raped. I bled for 22 days.”

Sherli found out about Kofaviv, the women’s support group, when she sought help at a mobile medical clinic. Kofaviv accompanied her to the police, where she filed a report about the attack. “The police said: ‘When you catch the gangster who raped you, call us,'” she says.

Kofaviv found Sherli a room in a safe house. “They looked after me like a daughter,” she says.

“In the self-help groups I went to, I talked to other girls about their experiences. I realised that I was not alone. Many had lost their families in the earthquake.

“A lot of them were using sex to survive and would sleep with a man for a plate of spaghetti.”

Sherli is now helping Kofaviv co-ordinate a support group for teenage sex workers living in the camps.

“We talk about the risks of unsafe sex. I share my own example and how I got out of prostitution,” she says.

“At Kofaviv, they can attend courses, such as sewing, jewellery-making and computer classes. This gives them a skill and more choices about how to survive.

“Supporting them, I have become strong again.”

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