Two-time rape victim fights for justice

Published 4:26 PM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012

Story highlights

Malya Villard-Appolon was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012

Her nonprofit offers safety, support for Haiti's rape victims

Gender-based violence has been a problem for Haiti since the 2010 earthquake

Who should be the CNN Hero of the Year? Cast your vote now!

(CNN) —  

It would have been so easy to build a monument to misery and light the torch of vengeance. … But we decided to go the tough way, the hard way, which is acknowledging we can all be better and we can always bring good out of bad. There is grace in that, and there is deep peace in that.

Villard-Appolon is a rape survivor herself. In 2004, she established KOFAVIV, an organization that helps other survivors find safety, medical care and legal aid.

Since the earthquake, she and her group have helped more than 1,400 women.

CNN asked Villard-Appolon for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean for KOFAVIV?

Villard-Appolon: It’s an opportunity for people to know the situation in Haiti – for women, especially.

We feel that (this) will allow KOFAVIV to reach out to more women and provide more support. Haiti is a country where many of the women are victims.

For me, this is a huge thing. I was raped in 1992 and in 2003; I survived an attempted rape in 2010. My daughter was raped. And yet in the face of the problems in our country, I gave my entire life for this project. This will enable me to continue to fight, and I hope it brings about a change for my country.

CNN: What was your reaction when you found out that you’d been selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Villard-Appolon: I knew it was something special.

When we found out, all the victims mobilized, and it was a victory for them. This gives encouragement to me and our outreach agents to continue to serve other women and girls who are victims.

More from CNN Heroes: Living in fear “under the tent”

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Villard-Appolon: We will use a portion of it so we can help the children. We have a lot of children that we are helping in education. (An) organization that was sponsoring a school could no longer pay to keep up the school. We would take the children we are working with already and work on finding a school that they can attend.

The money will give us the opportunity to help the children not lose a full year and get an education. When children don’t have an education, it becomes a problem for everyone.

Secondly, (it will) help in hiring security guards, for improving security for those involved with KOFAVIV.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Villard-Appolon: There is too much violence in Haiti. I want people in the United States to know the work that KOFAVIV is doing to combat corruption. We are fighting for the women and children who, after the earthquake, became victims. We are fighting for justice.

The South African slum of Kliptown has long suffered from high rates of unemployment, crime and school dropouts, and the end of apartheid did little to change the situation.

More Q&As from top 10 Heroes:
’A ray of hope’ where girls didn’t count
A voice for America’s caregiving kids
After losing daughter, dad vows to change culture