“If They Can Have Her, Why Can’t We?” a report published by Amnesty International, examines police violence against sex workers in the Dominican Republic. In the report, Amnesty International utilizes information collected from interviews conducted with 46 Dominican sex workers, 24 of whom were cisgender and 22 of whom self-identified as transgender. Overall, the report finds that a deeply ingrained machismo culture within the Dominican Republic’s National Police, in combination with conservative religious values prevalent in society, emboldens law enforcement officers to abuse their powers to use the punishment of women who engage in sex work as a form of social control. The report analyzes the interviews along with information gathered from government representatives, NGOs, and academics, in order to make recommendations to the Dominican government on how to pursue real structural reform to end the ill-treatment and torture of Dominican sex workers.
While facilitating and benefiting from the earnings of prostitution—“pimping”—is punishable by imprisonment in the Dominican Republic, the sale and purchase of sex between two consenting adults—“prostitution”—is not a criminal offense. Yet, the report finds conservative religious viewpoints and machismo culture create an incubator for the stigmatization of sex work that creates a permissive environment for the police to treat female sex workers as criminals. Such stigmatization feeds into the police’s unlawful abuse of their powers of arrest, which facilitates other abuses. In addition to arbitrary arrests, interviewees described interactions with the police as marked by humiliation and other forms of ill-treatment such as beatings, groping, hair pulling, and verbal abuse. Further, of the 24 cisgender women interviewed, 10 described experiences of being raped by the police. Most transgender interviewees described frequent experiences of being forced to provide oral sex to law enforcement officials, and the report noted generally that transgender interviewees experienced violence from the police more routinely than cisgender interviewees. Both groups of interviewees described police using tactics such as holding the women at gunpoint and using the threat of criminal detention to coerce the women into performing sex acts. The title of the report comes from an interviewee describing her experience of being raped by three armed police officers in a patrol car. Multiple testimonies described similar circumstances: women being gang raped by armed officers on dark street corners, often in the back of police vehicles.
The report emphasizes that, under international law, rape perpetrated by government officials constitutes torture. Yet, the report notes that, for the women who do report mistreatment, the Prosecutor General’s Office treats allegations of rape or other forms of violence by law enforcement officers as crimes of gender-based violence, rather than considering them torture. Due to the widespread discrimination against sex workers, most of the interviewees did not report acts of violence, due to their lack of faith in the justice system. The report gives recommendations to increase the women’s confidence in the justice system by addressing the roots of the structural violence that they face. The report advocates for the Prosecutor General’s Office to ensure that when reasonable grounds exist to believe that sexual violence, gender-specific forms of torture or ill-treatment, or both have been carried out by law enforcement officers, a prompt and impartial investigation is carried out in proceedings that meet international standards. To do this, the report suggests the Office develop a national protocol for the investigation of torture and other ill-treatment that follows the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in recognizing the survivor’s testimony in cases of alleged rape as fundamental evidence of the act, as well as conforms with other international standards.
Overall, the report recommends government officials publicly condemn the use of rape and other ill-treatment of sex workers by the National Police. The report also suggests the government consult with civil society organizations to develop public education campaigns to counter the stigma that drives sexual gender-based violence by state actors. The report’s recommendations to the Dominican Parliament include ensuring the meaningful participation of sex workers in the development of laws and programs to protect them from discrimination, creating legislation to provide individuals with an accessible process to obtain identity documents that reflect their gender self-identification, and guaranteeing access for all to education and employment options to prevent any person from having to rely on sex work as a means of survival. To achieve these action items, the report recommends close coordination among government, sex workers, and NGOs.
NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).