The government maintained prosecution efforts, but a lack of resources and personnel and leadership turnover hampered efforts. Dominican law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2003 Law on Human Smuggling and Trafficking (Law 137-03) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Article 25 of the Child Protection Code of 2003 criminalized the offering, delivering, or accepting, without regard to means used, anyone younger than 18 years of age for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or any other purpose that demeaned the individual, for remuneration or any other consideration, and prescribed a penalty of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine. All these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In partnership with NGOs and a foreign donor, the government began efforts to revise its law to remove the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion for child sex trafficking.
In 2018, the Attorney General’s Office initiated 11 investigations (17 in 2017, 25 in 2016, and 15 in 2015) and prosecuted five cases involving 14 suspected traffickers. This is compared with 20 traffickers prosecuted in 2017, 40 traffickers in 2016, and 49 traffickers in 2015. The Attorney General’s Office secured convictions of 22 defendants in nine cases of sex trafficking and one case of sex and labor trafficking in 2018, compared to 16 defendants convicted in 13 cases in 2017 and 13 defendants convicted in seven cases in 2016. Seventy percent of the 2018 convictions occurred in cases with underage victims. A court sentenced one trafficker to 25 years in prison, the maximum sentence prescribed by the trafficking law due to the existence of aggravating circumstances, and ordered the trafficker to pay 500,000 Dominican pesos ($10,010) compensation to each of the three victims. Two traffickers received sentences of 15 years in prison. Other sentences ranged from two to 10 years, with three including a portion of the sentence suspended and one taking into account time served. During the reporting period, the court of appeals upheld a 2017 guilty verdict in one trafficking case. In 2017, the government charged two police officers and two members of the military with sex trafficking; authorities suspended these individuals from their jobs and held them in pretrial detention pending the outcome of their court cases. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.
The national police anti-trafficking unit (ATU) opened 45 investigations in 2018; this compared with 83 investigations in 2017. The national police also conducted six raids in sex trafficking cases, versus seven in 2017, three in 2016, and none in 2015. In addition, in 2018, two foreigners (German, Italian) were charged and four foreigners were convicted (Canadian, Italian, French, and American) with child sex tourism. In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office charged 12 foreigners (American, Canadian, German, and Venezuelan) with child sex tourism and convicted four of them; the other eight cases were pending. The police reported 18 open investigations related to child sex tourism in Sosua and Puerto Plata and five in Boca Chica. The government cooperated with the United States, Belgium, Argentina, and Spain, on investigations and prosecutions of traffickers; this included the 2017 arrest and joint U.S.-Dominican investigation of a U.S. citizen for child sex trafficking, which resulted in a 2018 U.S. conviction. The government announced it significantly increased its military and law enforcement presence along the border. However, the limited number of police officers dedicated to combat trafficking, lack of resources, and procedural inefficiency hindered progress.
In September 2018, the Attorney General replaced many of his top and more experienced prosecutors, including the prosecutor for the specialized anti-trafficking unit. The leadership for the unit changed twice within the last year, and the Attorney General’s office had only two prosecutors for the majority of the reporting period—half the number of previous years. Although the office added one additional prosecutor in late 2018, experts noted the lack of human and financial resources for prosecution was an area of urgent concern. The government’s anti-trafficking resources were concentrated in Santo Domingo, resulting in gaps in other areas of the country. Judges, prosecutors, and police lacked specialized training in investigating, identifying, prosecuting, and sentencing those accused of trafficking crimes. Experts reported observing some judges favored the rights of defendants over the rights of trafficking victims. In 2018, 480 National Police officers received training on investigations and victim identification by an international organization; this was an increase from 300 officers trained in 2017. With funding from a foreign donor, 32 prosecutors from throughout the Dominican Republic received training on trafficking cases.