The government increased prosecution 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. During the current reporting period, the foreign ministry led a consultation process with government agencies, NGOs, international organizations, and foreign donors for the modification of the law to remove the provision requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking crime; while the government completed an initial draft of the amendment, it remained pending completion and passage in the National Congress.
The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported initiating 63 investigations (59 for sex trafficking, four for labor trafficking) in 2020, compared with 26 investigations in 2019, 11 in 2018, 17 in 2017, and 25 in 2016. The police anti-trafficking unit (ATU) reported initiating 44 investigations in 2020, compared with 35 investigations in 2019, 45 investigations in 2018, and 83 in 2017. Of the 44 investigations reported by the police, 36 were co-initiated by the Special Prosecutor against Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants’ office (PETT). An NGO reported assisting the government in the investigation of one of the cases that involved child victims. The government reported one ongoing labor trafficking investigation from a previous reporting period. The government reported initiating prosecutions of 42 defendants in 2020 (36 for sex trafficking and six for labor trafficking), compared with prosecuting 47 defendants in 2019, 14 defendants in 2018, 20 defendants in 2017, and 40 defendants in 2016. The AGO secured convictions of four traffickers, compared with five in 2019, 22 in 2018, 16 in 2017, and 13 in 2016. Courts in Santo Domingo convicted two individuals in February 2020 for trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, psychological abuse, and sexual assault of children; they received 25 and 20 years’ imprisonment, respectively, were fined 175 times the minimum salary (1.75 million Dominican pesos or $30,100), and forfeited property to the government. The Court of Appeals upheld a 2019 guilty verdict with a 25-year sentence in one trafficking case. In addition, a local NGO—not the PETT—brought an appeal against a trial court’s sentence in a previous reporting period of six years’ imprisonment for a sex trafficking conviction as inconsistent with Dominican law. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the NGO and increased the sentence to 15 years’ imprisonment, in accord with the Dominican trafficking law. In cooperation with a foreign government, the ATU made three arrests as part of a joint operation in September 2020, resulting in the identification of three female sex trafficking victims. The government reported it prosecuted four cases of sex trafficking initiated in prior reporting periods as procuring or pandering cases because it determined the individuals involved in commercial sex were not trafficking victims.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year; the government increased efforts to investigate allegations of official complicity, although it did not initiate any prosecutions in these cases. The government reported opening one investigation into official complicity involving a regional employee of the AGO over allegations of leaks to suspects in a case involving sexual exploitation of children. The government reported it opened an investigation in November 2020 into two Dominican diplomats posted in Argentina accused of child sex trafficking of Dominican children in Argentina. The government reassigned the diplomats but did not report initiating prosecution in this case because no complaint was filed. The National Police opened a trafficking investigation into a member of the armed forces accused of accepting bribes at the border. The government completed two investigations initiated in the previous reporting period of three government employees assigned to the PETT. One prosecutor allegedly sexually abused an identified trafficking victim, while two police investigators allegedly provided confidential information to nightclub owners before planned raids to help them evade capture; the government suspended all three from their positions. The government did not prosecute the police officers due to lack of evidence; the government had not initiated prosecution of the public prosecutor by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report the status of a 2017 sex trafficking case involving police officers and members of the military.
The PETT and the ATU were the principal law enforcement bodies pursuing trafficking cases, with police units in Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, San Cristóbal, Puerto Plata, and Boca Chica. The PETT had established liaisons in each of the 35 district attorney’s offices nationwide. However, the government concentrated its anti-trafficking resources in Santo Domingo, resulting in a lack of institutional capacity—including resources, training, and experience—to properly investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases in areas of the country outside of the Santo Domingo metropolitan area. NGOs reported Dominican authorities often lacked the training and technology for the identification, investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of both traditional and online trafficking crimes, sometimes favoring the rights of the defendant over those of the victim. NGOs suggested evidence of corruption and misuse of victim assistance funds, as well as the departure of specialized personnel from the PETT in recent years, including the current reporting period, significantly lowered public confidence in the government’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases or protect victims effectively. NGOs stated the PETT remained the weakest link in the government’s anti-trafficking response. The government also reported a lack of understanding of the nature of human trafficking among the Dominican population hindered effective identification and investigation of the crime.
The government did not have courts specifically for trafficking cases, nor was there a separate judicial budget for trafficking. In response to the pandemic, courts closed in March 2020 and began to gradually re-open beginning in July 2020. Both the government and NGOs reported the courts created protocols for virtual and in-person hearings, but the number of cases processed by law enforcement both at the investigative level and in the courts fell. The government and local NGOs reported the pandemic may have pushed traffickers online into chat rooms and social media, which made the crime more difficult to identify. The pandemic also hindered investigators’ ability to collect evidence, and NGOs reported police attention shifted to enforcing nightly curfews and other public health-related measures. The government reported a lack of adequate personnel and equipment for the anti-trafficking police for the entire reporting period affected operations. Despite this, NGOs reported the ATU remained proactive and effective in investigating suspected trafficking cases.
The government reported training 153 defense, tourism, police, and immigration officials and civil society representatives on the detection of the crime of human trafficking and on fraudulent methods traffickers employ in cooperation with an international organization. The government also reported training 50 judges, prosecutors, and public defenders from the Supreme Court, AGO, and National Office of Public Defense on the Legal Protection Course on the rights of the child, including trafficking and child sexual exploitation, in coordination with an international organization and a foreign donor, and 80 Supreme Court and AGO judges and prosecutors on human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in coordination with an international organization, an NGO, and a foreign donor. An NGO reported police cadets received training on human trafficking and sexual exploitation but that the training was insufficiently detailed and inaccessible to patrol officers. Authorities began a joint project with an NGO to improve the police cadet training curriculum. The government reported assisting three foreign governments with trafficking investigations, of which one resulted in a conviction for sexual exploitation of a child. An international organization reported the government participated in an INTERPOL law enforcement operation, along with 32 countries across four continents. Police authorities signed an agreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to expand cooperation against the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, child trafficking, and other forms of child sexual abuse. The government continued cooperation with two foreign countries and an international organization on a 2019 prosecutor anti-trafficking training project.