A Note From The Editor: In Darling Issue No. 10 we announced a new partnership with International Justice Mission (IJM), specifically partnering with their work to eradicate sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic. We’re excited to introduce the fourth in a series of update posts, taking you along and behind-the-scenes for a deeper look at how exactly that is being accomplished.
In the Dominican Republic, only a handful of convictions for the commercial sexual exploitation of a minor have been handed down in the past decade, but this week a criminal was found guilty of sexually exploiting a teenage girl, marking the first conviction for IJM’s office in the DR.
The following is an update from Jessica Ortiz, IJM Dominican Republic Director of Casework.
Miranda* was orphaned as a young teen.
She remembers little about her mother or father, but has vivid memories of being passed from relative to relative, and at one point having to collect and sell aluminum cans to be able to survive.
One day, a man noticed this vulnerable girl and befriended Miranda. He lured her into an abusive relationship, pretending to take care of her before he began to sexually assault and beat her. After several months, he started selling Miranda to other men on the streets of Santo Domingo. He forced her to give him any money she received.
In May of 2014, a local police officer became suspicious of foul play when he saw 15-year-old Miranda walking with this older Dominican man in an area known for high crime and prostitution. In coordination with a local prosecutor, the police arrested the man and rescued Miranda. Despite the desperation of the situation, the fact that this officer saw a young girl being exploited and acted to rescue her and restrain the man is good news, and we want to see more of this as we continue in our casework here.
Months after the suspect’s detention, Miranda was staying in a government shelter, but her case had not moved forward as she learned she was pregnant. The country’s Anti-human Trafficking Unit asked IJM to assist with the case and ensure that Miranda got the help she needed. Within days of meeting her, an IJM psychologist accompanied Miranda as she bravely testified before a closed-circuit camera about the abuse she suffered. IJM then helped her move into a private shelter for at-risk women.
Working alongside the local prosecutor, IJM’s legal team participated at hearings and prepared the evidence for Miranda’s case. But, as in many of our field offices, delays and obstacles with Miranda’s trial began to precipitate. The court took six months to simply schedule a trial date. In June 2015, the prosecutor and an IJM lawyer appeared to present the evidence to the tribunal, but the suspect had not been brought to the courthouse, forcing a cancellation. In mid-July, missing paperwork in the Court’s official file led to further delay.
Finally, on July 28, 2015 Miranda’s trial began. After hearing the evidence, the tribunal retired for an hour and returned with its verbal ruling: Guilty. On August 11, the Court officially ruled that the criminal had exploited Miranda and would be sentenced to prison.
Today, Miranda continues to live in the private shelter. In January of this year, she gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter, whom she adores. She continues to receive therapy and job training and feels hope for her future. She also smiles more, because her life has truly changed.
I was so moved when Miranda told us she dreams about growing up to be a lawyer. To me, it shows just how special a bond she has formed with my team, and I’m proud that we have been able to stand up for her.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
Darling is excited to continuing sharing updates about IJM’s anti-trafficking work in the Dominican Republic. Find out more about our partnership with IJM here, as well as follow their work via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Images provided by IJM