On February 26, Rocio* a 16-year-old girl, and other two victims were rescued in an operation led by the Dominican Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) and supported by IJM from an illegal bar just outside of the north of the country.
That Friday night, Dominican police, public justice officials and IJM entered a ‘‘Santería’’ (a place for religious practices that combine indigenous customs, the faith of the previously enslaved Yoruba people of West Africa and Roman Catholicism) built of wood and cane and tin roof that operated as a clandestine bar. They rescued Rocio, the youngest of the group, who is four months pregnant, a 17-year old girl who is also four months pregnant and has a 3-year old son, and a 19-year-old who also has a 3-year old son and is two months pregnant.
The investigation revealed that these girls and young women were being sexually exploited. The Santería would open up from Fridays to Sundays. The owner and her son would transport some of the girls and young women to the place, charging as low as $25 USD per abuse. One of the victims described the locations, explaining “the house has a living room with a kitchen and rooms with many beds and only one bathroom.”
Following the rescue operation, the place was permanently shut down. Two suspects, a 37-year old woman who owned the place and her son, were arrested and will be prosecuted for the crimes of human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and procuring. According to the survivors’ statements, the son was in charge of finding other girls and young women.
As the night went on, IJM provided on-site trauma support for all survivors and collaborated with local officials to transport them to a government-run shelter, where they received medical attention and crisis care. The 19-year old survivor and her son were escorted to a separate safe house for non-minor victims.
IJM applauds the incredible coordination and collaboration between the Dominican Police and the Public Ministry and the opportunity to support their work in this case as they bring these survivors and their children to safety. Moving forward, authorities will work toward holding the two suspects accountable.