On January 22, a Dominican court held trial until 10:30 at night, deliberated for an hour, and then found seven sex traffickers guilty of selling children for sex. This conviction represents a huge victory for our IJM Dominican team, as the ruling concludes the office’s first case, which dates back three and a half years!
In August 2014, a month after IJM completed a Prevalence Baseline Study measuring the presence of children being exploited in the country’s commercial sex industry, the Public Ministry requested our team’s support in a rescue operation. On the day of the operation, IJM provided logistical and psychological support for the survivors. That day, Luciana* and twelve other survivors, ages 14 to 17, were rescued.
Recalling the first moments of the rescue, Luciana remembers feeling very cold until IJM staff offered her a coat. An IJM case manager who met Luciana the day of the rescue recalls “Later in her therapy process, and during a group activity, Luciana shared that this small action and the fact that a group of strangers would care for her and end what she was going through made Luciana feel really valued.”
For more than three years, IJM provided a variety of services to these survivors including therapy, economic empowerment, re-enrollment in school, and support for those who were new mothers. Additionally, an IJM lawyer served as Querrellante (a private legal representative) to provide legal accompaniment for these young survivors and their families during the trial against the traffickers.
The prosecution proved to be one of the biggest challenges the office has faced. Dozens of suspended hearings and other delays frustrated the team’s efforts to secure justice. But IJM did not give up. On January 22, 2018, after a long day in court, our team secured the conviction of all seven perpetrators in this case. “It was an exciting environment. We were there from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. We thought the judge would call for a recess, but his commitment to the children was stronger. We continued on late into the night. The quantity of evidence we had was very strong.” Raysi Marte, IJM lawyer, said. The sex traffickers were found guilty and sentenced. Two were sentenced to 10 years in prison – the maximum sentence for this crime – three will serve five years, and the remaining two were sentenced to 3 years, suspended to time served.
“We felt really grateful and satisfied by the fact that this case finally reached trial. It was a very turbulent process.” Sonia Hernandez, Director of IJM’s Legal Department, said.
Luciana was the first survivor from this case to complete her therapy process with IJM, in 2016. Since then two more survivors have reached restoration and the rest are still working with our team to reach this step of healing in their lives.
Working toward transformation and justice for the most vulnerable can be a weary task. That is why IJM works alongside others to rescue and protect children like Luciana. In this particular case, our key partners were the Public Ministry’s Specialized Unit against the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons and CONANI, the Government’s Child Welfare Agency. Additionally, a local church also opened its church building to enable IJM to meet with survivors, and then hosted a celebration for the ones who finished their aftercare program.
“This victory demonstrates IJM’s dedication to work with the Public Ministry for as long as it takes, and to overcome all obstacles, to secure justice for victims of sex trafficking," said Fernando Rodriguez, IJM Field Office Director. “At the trial, one critical element proved to be the recorded testimony of the brave survivors, several of whom IJM has had the joy to see restored over these past years to a life of health and dignity, free from exploitation.”