The government decreased prosecution efforts; the government increased investigations and prosecutions but decreased convictions, and allegations of official complicity in trafficking 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 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.
The Attorney General’s Office reported initiating 26 investigations in 2019, compared with 11 in 2018, 17 in 2017, 25 in 2016, and 15 in 2015. The government reported 22 prosecutions in process involving 47 suspects compared with five prosecutions with 14 defendants in 2018, 20 defendants in 2017, 40 defendants in 2016, and 49 in 2015. The Attorney General’s Office secured convictions of five defendants for trafficking, a decrease compared with convictions of 22 defendants in 2018, 16 defendants in 2017, 13 in 2016, and 20 in 2015. A court sentenced one trafficker to six years in prison, and the other two traffickers to three years each, and ordered the trafficker to pay restitution to each of the three victims. During the reporting period, the court of appeals upheld a 2018 guilty verdict in one trafficking case, but suspended four years and four months of the five-year sentence. The government has not updated the status of a 2017 sex trafficking case involving police officers and members of the military. The national police anti-trafficking unit initiated 35 investigations in 2019, down from 45 investigations in 2018 and 83 investigations in 2017. The police co-conducted raids with an international law enforcement agency in which 11 suspected traffickers were arrested in October. The government collaborated with the Government of Canada on a case involving a criminal organization trafficking children for sex and with the government of Panama on a labor trafficking case.
In 2018, the Attorney General replaced many of his top and more experienced prosecutors, including the prosecutor for the specialized anti-trafficking unit; experts noted that the continuing lack of human and financial resources for prosecution was an area of urgent concern. The government reported two investigations of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking offenses, both investigators assigned to the office of the Special Prosecutor against Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (PETT); no formal charges were filed in either case. One prosecutor allegedly sexually abused an identified trafficking victim, while two police investigators allegedly provided confidential information to nightclub owners before planned raids in order to help them evade capture; all three were suspended from their positions. 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 and experts reported observing that some judges favored the rights of defendants over the rights of trafficking victims. In 2019, 349 officials of the Ministry of the Interior and Police received training on preventing trafficking and smuggling of migrants by an international organization; this was a decrease from 480 officers trained in 2018 and but an increase from 300 participants trained in 2017. With funding from a foreign donor, 55 members of the Ministry of Defense specialized units were trained on identifying human trafficking. The specialized tourist security unit trained 195 new and existing staff on detecting human trafficking in street children. The National Institute of Migration (INM) trained 667 government officials and members of civil society in 23 workshops across the country about how to detect human trafficking.