PORT-AU-PRINCE - The UN has started daily radio announcements to help women at risk from rape in Haiti's squalid camps that house hundreds of thousands of quake survivors, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
"Three spots on how women can improve their security will be aired in the morning and three spots on how women can protect themselves in an assault will be aired in the afternoon," said United Nations spokeswoman France Hurtubise.
The public service announcements in Creole will be aired on seven radio stations nationwide for 60 days straight, said Hurtubise, spokeswoman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Michel Martin, head of the criminal intelligence unit for the UN police UNPOL, dismissed rumors about large numbers of rapes in the camps and said less than 10 had been investigated since the January 12 earthquake.
UNPOL is working closely with the Haitian police and MINUSTAH, the UN military force in Haiti, to crack down on any violence in the 460 camps dotted around Port-au-Prince, Martin said.
"This is a very unique, particular situation where you have thousands of people camping in an area where it is difficult to move around," he said.
"You've got ropes, you've got poles. At night, especially, it is very, very difficult. We have got to make sure that our people are tracked all the time."
UNPOL, which has a 350-strong presence in Port-au-Prince, is working with local leaders inside the camps and has an emergency number they can call if they spot any criminal activity or something unusual.
"People who have been victim of a crime don't come very easily toward the police. We cannot patrol these camps, at this point, 24 hours a day at the same time. It's a step-by-step process," said Martin.
Hurtubise said 100,000 solar lanterns had been distributed to some of the most high-profile camps like Champ de Mars and Petionville Club to try to improve security.
And Martin said UNPOL had requested more female officers to act as the main interface with women in the camps and that they were encouraging the Haitian police to do the same.
The presence of women "is one of our main objectives because it is easier to establish contact," he said.
Violent crime figures in Haiti are down on pre-quake levels from 402 reported in February 2009 to just 174 this year, but this could easily be due to the very visible international military and police presence in the country.
Michel warned people to be savvy about the risk of kidnap and said the latest incident - two local children abducted early on Tuesday morning - showed everyone had to be on their guard the whole time.
He urged people "to be careful, to avoid being isolated at night, to stay together."
Most relief organizations in Port-au-Prince have self-imposed night-time curfews.