SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-- Yesterday, a criminal was found guilty and sentenced in the Dominican Republic for the commercial sexual exploitation of a teenage girl. The ruling is only one of a handful of convictions handed down in the past decade. The conviction is the first for IJM’s office in the country.
“This first conviction shows that the poor can receive justice in the Dominican Republic,” says IJM Field Office Director Fernando Rodriguez, adding, “We share joy with Miranda* because she obtained justice against the man who exploited her. And we are full of hope as we look forward to helping many other victims in the country.”
Miranda was orphaned as a young teen.
She remembers little about her mother or father. But she 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.
A man noticed this vulnerable girl and befriended Miranda. He lured her into an abusive relationship, pretending to take care of her then starting 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 last year, 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.
“This is exactly what we are hoping to see more of in this community,” explains Director of Casework Jessica Ortiz. “This police officer saw a young girl being exploited, and he acted to rescue her and stop the man from exploiting others.”
A few months later, the suspect remained imprisoned, but the case had not moved forward.
“We share joy with Miranda* because she obtained justice against the man who exploited her. And we are full of hope as we look forward to helping many other victims in the country.”
- IJM Field Office Director Fernando Rodriguez
Miranda stayed in a government shelter, and she had learned that she was pregnant. IJM had recently begun working with the country’s Anti-Trafficking Unit. This unit asked IJM to assist with the case and to make sure Miranda got the help she needed.
Within days of meeting her, an IJM psychologist accompanied Miranda as she testified before a closed-circuit camera. The support enabled Miranda to testify bravely about the abuse she suffered. The testimony would prove critical at trial. 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. In December, the court accepted the Prosecutor’s official charge. The only remaining step was the trial itself.
But then delays and obstacles began to appear.
The court took six months to simply schedule a trial date. In June, 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, the 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.
“Miranda has thrived over the past nine months,” says IJM’s Aftercare Case Manager, Luz Henriquez.
“She feels hope for her future, and has expressed a desire to become a lawyer or a social worker someday. It’s a joy for myself and the IJM team to walk alongside Miranda. God has blessed us with seeing what he can do in someone’s life when we make ourselves available to be his hands and feet to help the vulnerable.”