Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but not spousal rape. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape or incest) is 25 years’ imprisonment, the normal sentence was five to seven years. Police generally were not reluctant to arrest or prosecute offenders; whenever possible, female police officers handled rape cases. The Bureau of Gender Affairs collaborated with civil society organizations to assist victims of abuse.
Sexual violence and domestic violence cases were common, and the government recognized it as a problem. No information was available regarding prosecutions or convictions. The government held workshops and participated in public awareness and outreach programs during the United Nations’ 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Survivors of sexual and domestic violence were sometimes reluctant to speak out due to fear of retribution, stigma, or further violence, which suggested that the problem might have been significantly underreported. Although no specific laws criminalize spousal abuse, spouses were able to bring charges against their partners for battery. Strong emotional ties to abusers and a lack of financial independence often made survivors reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and there is no legislation allowing the government to bring charges on behalf of the victim for domestic abuse.
Lifeline, a civil society organization, trained victim supporters for adults and children who are survivors of gender-based violence. In previous years the Bureau of Gender Affairs provided temporary shelter to victims through collaboration with the Dominica National Council of Women, a civil society organization, but due to financial constraints, the bureau ceased providing temporary shelter in 2014. The bureau reported that the lack of temporary shelter made some victims reluctant to report domestic violence because they had no place of refuge.
The law allows abused persons to appear before a magistrate without an attorney and request a protective order. Although the country lacks a family court, magistrates may order the alleged perpetrator to be removed from the home to allow the victims, usually women and children, to remain in the home while the matter is investigated. Inadequate police resources made enforcement of these restraining orders difficult, and civil society groups reported there was slow police response to reports of abuse. Police cadets continued to receive training on domestic abuse.
The Bureau of Gender Affairs reported that male and female survivors sought assistance in dealing with domestic violence. There was a legal aid clinic, and the government’s legal department in the Ministry of Justice also offered assistance. The legal aid clinic was somewhat short-staffed, with only three lawyers. Counseling services were not provided to victims, but the clinic referred individuals to the appropriate government bureau.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it continued to be a serious and persistent problem. The Bureau of Gender Affairs reported that women, particularly young women, experienced sexual harassment while walking in public and in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: The constitution provides women with the same legal rights as men, but property ownership continued to be deeded to heads of households, who were usually men. The inheritance law provides that intestate succession leaves the surviving spouse with only a life estate; however, the law accommodates the transfer of property between spouses, which boosted married women’s property ownership. Women in unrecognized common law partnerships frequently suffered reduced standards of living after such relationships ended. While the legal system does not overtly discriminate against women, legislation is often written without considering gender; consequently, its application could be discriminatory. The law establishes pay rates for civil service jobs without regard to gender. Although some women occupied managerial or high-level positions, women faced discrimination in employment opportunities. The Bureau of Gender Affairs observed that 40 percent of department and division heads in the government were women, and this percentage increased to 60 percent in departments with a teaching or caregiving focus.
Following 2015 tropical storm Erika’s devastation of communities and homes, Nongovernmental organization sources reported that government resettlement policies were not gender-sensitive, putting single women with children at a greater economic disadvantage.