DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Advocacy for women under domestic violence must work from ‘ground up’

Davinder Kumar – WNN Features

38-year-old Dominican woman talks about causes of domestic abuse
Deborah, a 38-year-old Dominican woman talks about domestic violence inside the Dominican Republic saying that violent attacks on women by men are usually fueled by alcohol. Since the youth gender sensitivity groups were set up in her village there has been a noticeable drop in the number of violent events against women. Image: Davinder Kumar/Plan International

(WNN/PI) Santa Domingo, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: With Dominican Republic’s national legislation against violence in place, as well as the international laws on human rights, it is clear that the duty to exercise due diligence to prevent, prosecute and punish violence against women should exist. But very little real protection exists for women in reality as many continue to suffer violence on a daily basis as the majority of perpetrators go unpunished.

Every two days, sometimes each day, a woman is killed in an act of violence in the Dominican Republic. For an island nation of nearly ten million, over a thousand women have been killed in the last five years. In the majority of cases the perpetrators were intimate partners of the victims.

For the majority of women escape can be very difficult. Their dependence on male partners for financial and emotional support often means they continue to suffer in silence. Those who dare face the spectre of being left on their own, often risking worse reprisals and backlash.

Behind the veneer of glorious sunshine and sandy beaches, the holiday resort nation of the Dominican Republic is grappling with brutal killings and violent attacks on young girls and women.

At the age of 24, it is already a struggle for Alta Gracia to carry on living. Each time she looks at herself in the mirror all she can see is deep scars on her face and belly. Her machete brandishing former partner was adamant to finish her off. Seeing her bleeding profusely he left for her dead after his attack and disappeared.

From plush urban enclaves to deprived rural counties, ‘machismo’ pervades all classes and can be found in every community in the Dominican Republic. The by-word for ultra-masculinity, ‘machismo,’ has come to be regarded as a natural attribute for tough men who often dominate women with unprovoked aggression using violence as a way of life.

From alcohol and drugs, anger to jealously, dispute or just a bad day – anything can serve as a trigger for some men in the Dominican who want to unleash violence on women.

An overwhelming number of 62,000 complaints of gender violence against women were reported in the Dominican Republic in 2010, said Prosecutor for Woman Affairs Roxanna Reyes who is now also the Deputy Attorney General in the Dominican Republic, to local news daily Dominican Today in November 2011.

“We cannot go much further, we’re living it day to day, with cases which we didn’t see five years back,” continued Reyes. Just 4 per cent of charges against perpetrators went on to legal trials. Dominican court cases range from sexual violence involving young girls, to women being stabbed to death.

Urbanization is a contributing part of the problem in the Dominican Republic. The urban slum of La Puya, just outside of Santa Domingo, is a case in point. Urbanization and poverty together are strong indicators that can increase family stress, alcoholism and domestic violence.

“It is now well-recognized that violence is not evenly spread across cities, but tends to concentrate in particular geographic areas,” says a detailed April 2011 World Bank report. “These “hot spots,” or “no-go zones,” tend to have several structural features in common, and these commonalities extend across countries. That is, violence generally concentrates in areas of strong economic disadvantage, social exclusion, and poverty,” continued the report.

When children witness spousal abuse they are also more likely as adults to repeat the violence they have witnessed in the home.

“In environments of chronic violence, a cycle of violence is created between victimization and perpetration that can persist over generations,” added the World Bank report.

Considering a vast number of cases in the Dominican Republic are not even reported, a real estimate of the extent of the situation is hard to gauge. Fighting a lonely battle, women are often coerced into retracting statements they made to police or legal advocates by their perpetrators, or they simply give up in frustration for making little progress.

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