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Study: Police In The Dominican Republic Are Abusing Women Sex Workers With Impunity

Sex workers in the Dominican Republic, where the profession is illegal, are vulnerable to violence, but many don’t feel safe reporting these crimes to law enforcement because, in many cases, it’s police officers who are responsible for their abuse.

This month, Amnesty International released a report detailing how law enforcement in the Caribbean country rape and torture women sex workers. The study, harrowingly titled “If They Can Have Her, Why Can’t We,” includes interviews with 46 cis and trans sex workers who discuss the abuse they experienced at the hands of local police.

According to the report, of the 24 cis women interviewed, at least 10 had been raped by law enforcement, several at gunpoint. Similarly, many trans women disclosed being violently mistreated, some even tortured, by officers.

“The interviews reveal how a deeply engrained culture of machismo within the National Police, coupled with intense societal stigma and discrimination and conservative religious values, embolden law enforcement officials to unlawfully abuse their powers and punish women who engage in sex work as a form of social control,” reads the report.

One woman shared her account of being gang-raped by three policemen. In October 2017,  the woman was pulled over by an officer who spotted her waiting for clients when he forced her to enter his police van. There, he and two other patrols started groping the woman and ripping off her clothes.

“I was afraid. I was alone. I couldn’t defend myself. I had to let them do what they wanted with me,” she told Amnesty International. “They threatened me, that if I wasn’t with them they would kill me. They (said) that I was a whore, and so why not with them?”

The woman, whose shocking account influenced the title of the report, said that the officers called her a “bitch,” among other expletives, adding: “They saw me, I guess, and they thought ‘Well, if they (clients) can have her, why can’t we?’”

This mentality isn’t uncommon. The report notes that the government, and society at large, often views sex workers as less than human and are thus “deserving” of the violence they experience.

“The harrowing testimonies that Amnesty International has gathered from the Dominican Republic reveal that police routinely target and inflict sexual abuse and humiliation on women who sell sex with the purpose of punishing and discriminating against them,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said. “Under international law, such treatment can amount to gender-based torture and other ill-treatment.”

While this particular study looked at the problem in the Dominican Republic, Guevara-Rosas says police violence against sex workers isn’t unique to the region but rather follows a pattern of gender-based violence across Latin America and the Caribbean. She calls it an “epidemic” and notes that marginalized women, like sex workers, are at increased risk because of fear arrest.

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