Recently, I was approached to serve as an expert witness by a New England immigration defense lawfirm working on an immigration case wherein the client was a victim of domestic violence from the Dominican Republic. They are creating a motion that their client is a refugee who was forced to leave her country fleeing the persecution of her abusive husband. If this case is successful, this battered woman will not be back in the deadly hands of her abuser in the Dominican Republic. This case would help to develop a legal precedent for many domestic violence victims as they seek to get away from the long arm of their abusive partners.
Canada is helping to pave the way for domestic violence victims who emigrated there from the Dominican Republic. The Immigration and Refugee Board is Canada’s largest independent administrative tribunal. IRB is responsible for making well-reasoned decisions on immigration and refugee matters efficiently and fairly in accordance with the law. As such, IRB reported that the high incidence of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic is a serious concern.(IRB, 2015). Findings from their IRB research concluded that there were very limited resources for battered women in the Dominican Republic. Even though the Ministry of Women declared that there were safe havens and shelters for the women on the island, “Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate” (IRB, 2015). As I read these latest findings and prepared to testify, I am not surprised by Canada’s IRB research findings. A well-equipped tribunal is baffled by the rate of domestic violence on a small island in the Caribbean and they are scratching their heads wondering how this pervasive problem continues to grow on the island. As a field researcher with first hand knowledge of the bureacratic systems that hinder justice for the victims, I am determined to work with a team of advocates and researchers to ratify change for the victims of domestic violence.
As an international researcher and humanitarian, I have served as the lead researcher commissioned by various international non-profit organizations to conduct research on issues related to domestic violence, female genital mutilation, child brides, abandoned orphans, and street children across various countries in Africa and Latin America. All of these tragic situations, which include the abuse of women and children, are sadly shrouded by the vicious cycle of national corruption, apathy, and an obvious lack of effective and efficient legal systems to protect the victims.
The issue of domestic violence tugs at my heart. For the past 4 years, I have conducted in-depth studies as it relates to domestic violence. In my work, I have developed research proven strategies and economic empowering projects in the Dominican Republic that are gradually helping to inform policy and program structures regarding the epidemic rate of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic. The hope is that my international field research can assist in shedding light on the multifaceted and complex issues surrounding domestic violence as it relates to the victim, the abuser, and the children of battered women.
Domestic violence exists for Dominican women across all economic strata. Research findings from my 2012-2015 field research with 793 women and public data from various prosecutors’ offices in Santiago, Bonao, and El Sonador revealed that only 12 percent of the women that were in an abusive relationship were able to remain free from their abusers. El Centro de Estudios Sociales y Demográficos affirmed that one in every three women in the Dominican Republic are victims of some form of domestic violence. As I conducted research in various provinces in the northern and southern region of the Dominican Republic, I met with various prosecutors and gathered data that is quite compelling. Likewise, a study by the Association of Women’s Rights in Development confirmed that many Dominican women face this lonely battle and are often victimized twice, by their abusers and by the judicial system created to protect them. From 2011-2015, over 100,000 complaints of violence against women were reported across 23 different towns and cities. Recently, official statistics from the capital’s Santo Domingo Public Prosecutor’s Office confirms that the alarming level of domestic violence continues. It was shared that approximately only 4% of the charges brought up against the perpetrators, actually attended legal trials.
As a field researcher, I experienced first hand how the level of corruption within the Dominican Republic hinders the judicial process and ineffectual policies that were originally intended to protect the lives of battered women. My research and collaborative work in the Dominican Republic with key governmental figures, community partners, and advocates helped me understand the high degree of corruption that is not facilitating the proper allocation of law enforcement resources to protect the lives of these women at risk. An investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reveals that even though the 24-97 law was intended to promote major advances in the protection of women’s rights in this nation, many Dominican judges do not apply and enforce the law. This commission investigated the knowledge base of many judges and Public Ministry representatives and they were simply unaware of the extensive content of the approximately 20 year-old law.
When I conducted my 2013 field research, many of the victims I interviewed made numerous references related to a local domestic violence case that truly had many of the research study participants petrified. The researcher Bueno (2013) described this domestic violence case in Santiago, Dominican Republic. It occurred on September 30, 2012 wherein Jonathan Torres stabbed his 33-year-old wife Miguelina Martinez fifty-two times in a beauty salon. Prior to this heinous crime, the victim Ms. Martinez went to the district attorney’s office eighteen times in the two weeks prior to her murder to report that because of her husband’s violent threats, the victim had to no choice but to leave her home. As a result, Jonathan Torres killed Miguelina Martinez because she no longer wanted to be with him. Ironically, the knife he used to kill the battered woman was hidden in a bouquet of roses.
A few towns away from Santiago, Dominican Republic investigators Casado & Skewes (2012) gathered data obtained from record books of the Provincial Prosecutor and institutions that provided assistance to domestic violence victims. Casado & Skewes (2012) described the events of domestic violence in San Jose de Ocoa during 2008 through 2011 and they analyzed epidemiological variables within the municipality of San José de Ocoa. It was reported that 79% (345/439) of the affected women were between the ages of 15-49 years and 82% (360/439) of the attacks came from the male, being familiarly linked as partners.
My field experience and data gathered in focus groups and personal interviewed confirmed many of the mental health findings recently shared related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and mood disorders. The mental well-being of the battered women and their children is highly compromised. Children who witness domestic violence have higher rates of anxiety. Pervasive exposure to these traumatic events can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder not only for the battered women, but for their children as well. There is a strong correlation between domestic violence victims and women who suffer from mood disorders (Lugo, 2015)
Another tragic byproduct of the domestic violent trend by the abusers is how it is negatively impacting the lives of the children in the families where domestic violence exists. When children witness the violent abuse of their mothers, there is a strong chance that they will either become victims or abusers in their adulthood. In my research conducting focus groups and private interviews with families, many of the women that were battered had mothers and grandmothers that were in abusive relationships. Similarly, many of the men described as abusers had witnessed their fathers physically, mentally, and emotionally abusing their mothers. When a son witnessed his father hitting his mother, there was a strong likelihood that they would try to take similar measures in exercising power in their relationship with their battered wife or partner.
In conclusion, the topic of domestic violence is very close to my heart. As the only surviving daughter of a battered Latina, I witnessed how my mother Maria suffered for 25 years as a victim of domestic violence. My mother was finally able to break away from her abuser. But not too long after finally being free, she lost her battle with cancer in 2012. Her freedom from her abuser was short-lived. Therefore as a tribute to my beloved mother’s legacy, I continue to investigate and help change the lives of battered women. It is important to empower women to break the cycle of domestic violence.
Acknowledgement: I want to thank Carla Marie who serves as my research intern. She is a senior and a Human Rights undergraduate student at Columbia University helping to improve the quality of life for women and children. Two years ago I was blessed to have this Latina scholar approach me about doing research centered on domestic violence in the Dominican Republic. Ever since that fateful moment, I am proud to serve as her mentor and friend. I can’t wait to see how the next generation of Latina researchers continues the quest to eradicate domestic violence in the Dominican Republic. In addition, I would like to thank Councilman Victor Manuel Batista of El Sonador and his beautiful community for being of service to this cause. Mr. Batista’s tremendous support made it possible to inform and mobilize study participants, organize the women conferences, and reach out to community leaders and advocates. Thank you so much for all you do to help the beautiful women of your “pueblo”.
Bueno, C. C. (2013). “A knife hidden in roses”: Development and gender violence in the dominican republic (Order No. 3603060). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1474901311). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/docview/1474901311?accountid=10226
Casado, W., & Skewes, R. (2012). Domestic violence in san jose de ocoa, dominican republic 2008-2011. Injury Prevention, 18 doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040590q.8
Lugo, B. L. (2015). An exploratory study on mental health effects of therapist minimization of domestic violence victims’ experiences (Order No. 3717549). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1711739292). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/docview/1711739292?accountid=10226
Perez, M. (2005). LEGISLATIVE REFORM AND THE STRUGGLE TO ERADICATE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC. Columbia Journal of Gender and the Law, 14(1), 36. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/docview/232854395?accountid=10226
United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees. (2016). Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board. Domestic Violence Against Women and Children in the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f147edb.html