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  • Sex workers in the Dominican Republic are subjected to rape and brutal torture by the country's police. | Representational Image.

    Sex workers in the Dominican Republic are subjected to rape and brutal torture by the country's police. | Representational Image. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 March 2019
Opinion

Dominican Republic police rape, beat up and verbally abuse female cisgender and transgender sex workers with impunity. 

Female cisgender and transgender sex workers in the Dominican Republic are regularly raped, beaten and verbally abused by the country’s police according to a report by Amnesty International published Thursday.

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The report, “If they can have her, why can’t we?”, reported personal accounts of 46 cisgender and transgender women sex workers who have been subjected to routine torture at the hands of the country's police as forms of punishment for disobeying social norms.

“Gender-based violence is epidemic across Latin America and the Caribbean, with women sex workers at particular risk from state officials and other individuals,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

The number of cisgender sex workers in the country is estimated to be 97,000, with 3,900 of them being transgender women.

“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. Under international law, such treatment can amount to gender-based torture and other ill-treatment,” Guevara-Rosas said.

In 2018, the Dominican Republic Prosecutor General’s office received over 71,000 reports of gender-based and intra-family violence, and more than 6,300 reports of sexual offenses, including 1,290 reports of rape. The country also has one of the world's highest rates of femicides.

At least 10 out of 24 cisgender sex workers said a police officer had raped them, and many times at gunpoint. Transgender women workers faced various violence like torture and ill-treatment. Many were also gang raped by armed uniformed police officers late at night in dark corners, and often in the back of police vans.

“I was afraid. I was alone. I couldn’t defend myself. I had to let them do what they wanted with me… 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?” recalled an interviewee who was gang-raped by three policemen in the back of their van.

Many transgender women said their wigs were burned by the police or they were made to clean prison cells covered in excrement while being called “fags” and “devils.”

Such revelations are far from surprising as the country’s society is highly patriarchal with laws such as a total ban on abortion encouraging "machismo" culture. 

There are no laws in place to protect the right of sex workers. If they go to the police station to register any complaint, “they treat you like a whore. They ignore you. They don’t pay you any attention,” one woman said.

“By passing a law to prevent discrimination against some of the country’s most marginalized women, the Dominican Republic could set an example for the rest of the Caribbean to follow in the fight against stigma, machismo and other drivers of extreme violence against women,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

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