SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, October 24, 2014
For a young teen named Clarisa* and her family, the fact that two men are in prison facing sex trafficking charges brings a sense of safety that seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago. And for the IJM team in the Dominican Republic—established late last year and fully operational only for a few months—these arrests are critical to seeking justice in one of IJM's first cases in the country.
Traffickers Prey On The Most Vulnerable
Clarisa is 14, but she is living with a mental disability and functions like a 6-year-old. She is one of 9 children, and her family lives in extreme poverty in a very dangerous part of town.
IJM's team in the Dominican Republic first heard Clarisa's story from a prosecutor. It can typically take several visits to build rapport with a survivor of sexual violence, but Clarisa opened up to the IJM psychologist on her first visit on October 7. The young teen told how she had been raped by one man despite her resistance—and then how he sold her to another man, who assaulted her again.
Both suspects threatened to hurt Clarisa or her family if she dared to tell anyone.
Since the men were still at-large, the prosecutor decided to move Clarisa immediately to a safe shelter. IJM's team helped explain what was happening to the confused girl and her family, that she was not in trouble but needed to stay safe.
The First Step: Making An Arrest
IJM began working with the prosecutor to gather more evidence and request arrest warrants for the two suspects. Clarisa gave statements about the abuse and the two men, and this would prove to be critical evidence in securing their arrest. She also received a medical examination, which confirmed the physical and sexual violence.
In the Dominican Republic, it is up to the prosecutor to order a team of police to execute the arrest. The prosecutor mobilized three officers from the anti-trafficking unit, and over the next week, this team developed a plan and tracked leads to find the two suspects.
Finally, near midnight on Sunday and early Monday morning, October 20, the police arrested both suspects in two separate operations.
Restraining Suspects Who Pose A Real Threat
The next challenge in this case was making sure the suspects remained in prison. We believe that these two men pose a significant threat to Clarisa and her family, and the IJM attorney helped the local prosecutor make a strong case to request pre-trial detention.
As the IJM attorney and prosecutor reviewed the final documents, they realized that a clerical error had been made to the indictment (the document outlining charges). The crime was listed as "family violence," not a criminal act of trafficking. In fact, there was no evidence showing the men are related to Clarisa.
This administrative mistake could throw the entire case and allow the suspects to walk free.
Working quickly, the IJM attorney and prosecutor got the court to postpone the hearing and spent the rest of the afternoon making calls to get this small typo with big implications fixed.
Correcting A Typo Moves Justice Forward
The typo was finally corrected on Wednesday morning—the morning of the hearing. The court reviewed the statement Clarisa had given earlier, recounting the abuse and her suffering. An IJM team had also driven Clarisa's mother an hour to the courthouse so she could speak up and defended her daughter.
The court granted the request to keep the suspects incarcerated as the investigation continues.
IJM will continue to work with the local prosecutor to make sure they build a strong case that brings justice to Clarisa and starts to send a new message to this community—that traffickers and criminals who prey on the poor and vulnerable will be brought to account.
Clarisa and her family now have the support of IJM's expert team, and an IJM psychologist will develop the best treatment plan to help the girl process this trauma and build a safer future.