Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, incest, sexual aggression, and other forms of domestic violence. Penalties for conviction of these crimes range from one to 30 years in prison and fines from 700 to 245,000 pesos ($15 to $5,400). The sentences for conviction of rape, including spousal rape, range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,210 to $4,420). For rape cases involving a vulnerable person or a child or occurring under other egregious circumstances, the sentence for conviction is 10 to 20 years in prison.
Rape was a serious and pervasive problem. Survivors of rape often did not report the crime due to fear of social stigma, fear of retribution, and the perception that police and the judicial system would not provide redress. The state may prosecute a suspect for rape, including spousal rape, even if the victim does not file charges. Police generally encouraged rape victims to seek assistance from the specialized gender-based violence unit of the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, public defenders, or NGOs.
Despite government efforts to improve the situation, violence against women was pervasive. The National Police reported that 54 women were killed by their partners through July. The Attorney General’s Office reported that on average 6,000 women were victims of sexual assault each year. The Attorney General’s Office reported it had received more than 500,000 complaints of gender-based or sexual violence, with complaints increasing approximately 33 percent annually. The Attorney General’s Office also reported that the caseload far exceeded prosecutorial capacity, such that only a small fraction of these complaints went to court.
The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 18 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. At these offices victims of violence could file criminal complaints, obtain free legal counsel, and receive psychological and medical attention. Each office had professional psychologists on staff to counsel victims and to assess the threat of impending danger associated with a complaint. These offices had the authority to issue a temporary restraining order immediately after receiving a complaint.
In an additional step to address the problem, the Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes, even in cases in which victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling. The Attorney General’s Office also instructed its officers to conclude the investigation and presentation of charges within 35 days unless the case was considered complex.
The Office for the Attention of Women and Interfamily Violence, headed by Colonel Teresa Martinez, managed emergency call lines to facilitate quick response services. The office had a trained police officer in six of the 17 satellite violence-prevention and attention-unit offices.
The Ministry of Women, which had scarce resources, actively promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women through implementing education and awareness programs and the provision of training to other ministries and offices. The ministry operated two shelters for domestic violence survivors in undisclosed locations, where abused persons could make reports to police and receive counseling. The shelters provided women with short- and medium-term assistance of up to three months to escape violent situations, although the high demand limited stays to 15 days. The ministry had a presence in 31 provincial offices and 21 municipal offices, where it offered free legal counsel and psychiatric assistance to victims. The ministry also operated two programs to rehabilitate persons convicted of domestic abuse or gender-based violence. Through April the shelters had received 237 women; however, with a capacity of only 25 women and children at a time, the shelters were not able to accept all victims.
NGOs stated that while adequate laws were in place to punish gender-based violence, the judicial system did not adequately enforce those laws. The system lacked an integrated approach to victim care, the judicial system lacked the resources to prosecute perpetrators successfully, and the number of women’s shelters was inadequate for victim’s needs.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a fine equal to the sum of three to six months of salary. Union leaders reported, however, that the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem (see section 7.d.).
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 means and information to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Family-planning NGOs provided contraceptives without charge. Many low-income women, however, used them inconsistently due to irregular availability and societal influences. Religious beliefs and social customs reduced the use of modern methods of family planning. According to 2016 estimates by the UN Fund for Population (UNFPA), 69 percent of women used a modern method of contraception, and 11 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning; unmet need was higher among young women and adolescents (28 percent), and sterilization accounted for nearly half of all methods used, according to UNFPA. UNFPA reported that the adolescent birth rate was also high, at 90 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, and 21 percent of adolescents were mothers or pregnant. Although 98 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel, the maternal mortality was 92 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 400, according to 2015 UN estimates.
Through June the country’s maternal hospitals reported that 35 women had died in childbirth. Maternal mortality remained a problem due to medical reasons, including failure to adhere to standards of quality care, general lack of accountability and an insufficient culture of patient safety, inadequate referrals, and residents filling in for attending physicians without sufficient supervision.
A high rate of pregnancies among adolescent girls remained a concern. The country’s maternal hospitals reported a 28 percent teenage pregnancy rate. Other significant factors contributing to maternal and neonatal deaths were poor quality of care and lack of access to health-care services as well as complications during pregnancy and delivery. Most women and girls had access to some postnatal care, although the lack of postnatal care was higher among those that were uneducated and from low economic backgrounds as well as young mothers.
Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. Men held approximately 70 percent of leadership positions in all sectors. Only 11 percent of firms had female top managers. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, on average women received 16 percent lower pay than men in jobs of equal content and requiring equal skills. In 2014 the average unemployment rate among men was 9 percent of the active labor force, while for women it was 23 percent. Some employers reportedly gave pregnancy tests to women before hiring them as part of a required medical examination. Although it is illegal to discriminate based on such tests, NGO leaders reported that employers often did not hire pregnant women and sometimes fired female employees who became pregnant. There were no effective government programs to combat economic discrimination against women.
Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see section 2.d.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. A child not registered at birth is undocumented until parents file a late declaration of birth. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 12 percent of children under the age of five were not legally registered.
Education: The constitution stipulates free, compulsory public education through age 18, however not all children attend. A June report from UNICEF showed 26.8 percent of poor children did not attend primary school, compared with 4.3 percent of middle and upper class children. A birth certificate is required to register for high school, which discouraged some children from attending or completing school, particularly children of Haitian descent affected by the Constitutional Tribunal’s 2013 ruling (see section 2.d.). Children who lacked documentation also were restricted from attending secondary school (past the eighth grade) and faced problems accessing other public services.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. In May the attorney general publicly decried the problem of child abuse and stated that his office had already received 2,315 reports of child abuse. The Children and Adolescents Unit of the Attorney General’s Office maintained a hotline that persons could call to report cases of child abuse. Cases were often not pursued because of family embarrassment, lack of economic resources, or lack of knowledge regarding available legal assistance. The Santo Domingo district attorney’s office reported that, in most abuse cases, the accused was a person close to the child, such as a family member or close family friend. The law provides for removal of a mistreated child to a protective environment.
The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two and five years’ incarceration and a fine of three to five times the monthly minimum wage for persons convicted of abuse of a minor. The penalty doubles if the abuse is related to trafficking. The government’s National Directorate for Assistance to Victims coordinated the efforts of official entities and NGOs to assist children who were victims of violence and abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of women, before the age of 18 was common. According to UNICEF, 10 percent of girls were married by the age of 15 and 37 percent by 18. The government conducted no known prevention or mitigation programs. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,210 to $4,420). The law also contains specific provisions that prohibit child pornography and child prostitution, and prescribe penalties for sexual abuse of children of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,210 to $4,420).
The press often reported on pedophilia cases. The commercial sexual exploitation of children generally occurred in tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors, including the “House to House” program with UNICEF to educate the most at-risk populations about child sexual exploitation.
Displaced Children: A large population of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets (see section 2.d.). There were reports of Haitian children trafficking victims (see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, these individuals encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, and in obtaining health care and transportation services. The law provides for physical access for persons with disabilities to all new public and private buildings and access to basic services. It also specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible. The Ibero-American Network of Physically Disabled Persons reported that many students who use wheelchairs could not access classrooms due to narrow entrances and lack of ramps.
The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities as well as to run schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation for persons with disabilities was still a major impediment for the mobility of persons with disabilities.
The law states that the government should provide for persons with disabilities to have access to the labor market as well as to cultural, recreational, and religious activities, but it was not consistently enforced. The Santo Domingo Center for Integrated Care for Children remained the only facility serving children with developmental disabilities. In May the Ministry of Education reported that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended school.
There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, but the government denied such prejudice or discrimination existed and, consequently, did little to address the problem. Prejudice against Haitians disadvantaged Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, as well as other foreigners of dark complexion. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent. Local NGOs reported incidents where darker-skinned persons were denied access or services in banks, service in restaurants and stores, entry into nightclubs, enrollment in private schools, and birth registration in hospitals. Economic opportunities were also denied to darker-skinned persons, based on the cultural requirement for a “buena presencia” (good appearance).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals ranged from ambivalent tolerance to resolute homophobia. No specific law protects individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The constitution provides that the state shall promote matrimony as a union between a man and a woman; however, it does not define marriage to be exclusively between a man and woman. The law does not extend the same rights to cohabiting same-sex couples as to cohabiting heterosexual couples. The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.
NGOs reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in such areas as health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment. Although civil society conducted numerous workshops to raise awareness and alter negative public perceptions, Americas Barometer and Latinobarometro polls showed split societal views towards the human rights of LGBTI persons, with a slim majority not in favor of protecting against discrimination. Religious groups held rallies against the LGBTI community. A 2014 Gallup poll found 73 percent of those polled acknowledged societal discrimination against the LGBTI community. Roman Catholic and evangelical religious leaders often publicly criticized LGBTI activists and international organizations that promoted the human rights of LGBTI persons, at times using derogatory terms and insults against prominent LGBTI individuals or activists. In anticipation of the May general elections, the Catholic and evangelical churches published lists of candidates that supported the human rights of LGBTI persons and encouraged followers not to vote for those candidates. The 2016 election cycle was the first with an openly gay candidate for public office. The main opposition candidate for president publicly stated that he was tolerant of all sexual preferences. In May during the OAS General Assembly in Santo Domingo, thousands gathered outside of the venue to protest the alleged OAS agenda of promoting the human rights of LGBTI persons.
NGOs reported police abuse, including arbitrary arrest, police violence, and extortion, against members of the LGBTI community. They also reported that LGBTI persons were reluctant to file official charges or complaints due to fear of reprisals or humiliation. An LGBTI rights NGO reported 36 hate crimes against the LGBTI community through August. In June there were reports of a police effort to break up LGBTI gatherings in Santiago. On June 17, nine members of the LGBTI community were arrested in Colon Park. Those arrested alleged other forms of humiliation and abuse. The prosecutor’s office intervened after the nine had been in detention without cause for 24 hours and secured their release. On October 2, police arrested a group of 15 at Duarte Park in Santo Domingo, another public gathering site for the LGBTI community. Again, no specific cause was given for the arrests, and all individuals were released within 24 hours. In both incidents police and prosecutor’s offices announced investigations, but no prosecutions resulted from the investigations.
LGBTI persons often gathered informally in public spaces. Formal gatherings generally required the approval of the Community Board of Neighbors, an institution influenced by the Catholic Church and its conservative views on LGBTI issues. On July 3, for the sixth year in a row, the LGBTI community successfully held a gay pride parade and solidarity concert.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The National Council on HIV/AIDS reported that 68,000 individuals or 0.8 percent of the total population had HIV or AIDS. The council further reported that 18 percent of the transgender population had HIV or AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination, especially in the workplace.
Persons with HIV/AIDS routinely faced discrimination in access to health care and employment. NGOs reported that health workers discriminated against HIV/AIDS patients, which prevented persons from being tested for HIV/AIDS or receiving preventive services and treatment. Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many workers found to have the disease were not hired, and those employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care. According to the National Council on HIV/AIDS, those with HIV or AIDS were not covered by the country’s social security system. The municipality of Boca Chica passed a resolution in June prohibiting discrimination based on HIV or AIDS status but struck sections based on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The President’s Council on AIDS, which included public- and private-sector members and persons who were HIV/AIDS positive, coordinated policy at the national level and cooperated with local NGOs to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on vulnerable populations and society. The Ministry of Health also funded NGOs and private organizations, such as the Center for Orientation and Integration, which worked to combat discrimination and assist with integration into society.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed alleged criminals in vigilante-style reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary. A leading newspaper published a series of reports detailing this trend of vigilantism, citing 64 persons killed between 2013 and 2015 by mob justice. Observers attributed these incidents to an increase in crime and the perceived inability of security forces to stem or combat incidents of crime.