HomeNewsDominican Republic Struggles to Curb Rampant Sex Trafficking
NEWS

Dominican Republic Struggles to Curb Rampant Sex Trafficking

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC / 11 AUG 2022 BY DOUWE DEN HELD EN

The dismantling of a large transnational human trafficking network in the Dominican Republic has revealed how dozens of women from Colombia and Venezuela continue to be lured to the island before being forced into sexual labor.

This week, over 16 people, including active police and former military personnel, have been charged with running a sex trafficking network, which exploited at least 80 Venezuelan and Colombian women.

The women, all between 18 and 23 years old, were recruited in their home countries with offers to work as waitresses in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic's most significant tourist resort town. But once in the country, they were told they had to pay off debts of between $3,000-4,000 and forced into prostitution.

SEE ALSO: Police Reform Top Concern for New Dominican Republic President

The network offered the women to clients through catalogs promoted through messaging services such as WhatsApp, according to the country's special prosecutor against human trafficking (Procuraduría Especializada Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes y la Trata de Personas - PETT). Clients would pay hundreds of dollars for a night and would often be brought to the women by local children. Half the money would go to the traffickers and the other half toward paying off the debt, according to the Dominican newspaper Diario Libre. However, this debt was difficult to pay off entirely as the women would be forced to consume alcohol and drugs, the cost of which was arbitrarily added to what they owed.

If the women refused to cooperate, they were told they would be turned over to authorities or that their families back home would be harmed.

The Dominican Republic’s idyllic beaches attract millions of people every year, making it the most popular destination in the Caribbean. It is, however, also a major destination for sex tourists, primarily from North America and Europe.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Dominican authorities are trying to increase their fight against sex trafficking, these efforts are undermined by corrupt officials who facilitate such networks.

In Operation Cattleya, as the investigation is known, authorities rescued more victims of sex trafficking than they did in all of 2021, when just 29 victims were identified. In 2020, this number was 82.

Nonetheless, the Dominican Republic “does not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so,” according to the US State Department's 2022 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report. The country was placed at Tier 2 on the report's three-tier ranking.

A significant issue in combatting such networks is the involvement of security forces. A police sergeant was in charge of promoting the Cattleya network, and former military was also indicted, although it is unclear what their exact roles were.

The soldiers were in charge of moving the victims from place to place to avoid scrutiny, according to Diario Libre, citing the indictment.

“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year,” the TIP report concluded. Police complicity is involved in child sex trafficking, the report also stated.

SEE ALSO: Child Trafficking Thrives Along Haitian-Dominican Border

Operation Cattleya furthermore illustrates how tourism businesses often facilitate human trafficking operations. The women were held at the Coco Real Residency in Punta Cana and Hotel Caribe in Santo Domingo, according to the PETT.

Also, the fact that the women were offered to clients online through social networks and messaging services like WhatsApp makes the job of authorities even harder.

Before the pandemic, the services of trafficked women were often offered in bars or on city streets. During the pandemic this all moved online, becoming less visible to authorities. While COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are no longer in place in the Dominican Republic, staying online allows traffickers to reach a larger audience and lowers the risk of getting caught.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC / 8 MAR 2022

Dominican President Luis Abinader claims that constructing a 164-kilometer barrier along its border with Haiti will stop irregular migration and…

EL SALVADOR / 11 MAY 2021

A new report suggests women are increasingly playing an active role in the extortion activities of Central American gangs --…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 25 FEB 2021

Alto Paraná is home to some of Paraguay’s most dynamic criminal economies. Contraband goods continue to flood Brazil and Argentina…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…