“Nadie se mete entre problemas de marido y mujer”
by Daniel Jackman
The day after the UN representative for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women Michelet Bachelet was handed an award by Dominican president Leonel Fernandez (see picture), Fiordaliza Fructuoso, a 36 year old mother of four, was stabbed 19 times by her ex-husband. The glaring problem of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic is perhaps partially what prompted Ms Bachelet’s visit in the first place. Her visit was timed to mark the beginning of commemoration activities for the Mirabal sisters, murdered by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo on November 25th 1960. The sisters were executed for their vocal denunciations of the Trujillo dictatorship and the date of their murder was chosen to represent the ‘International Day against Violence against Women’ upon its creation in Bogota in July 1981. The visit will have been welcomed by women’s groups such as PROFAMILIA, who have long been campaigning for greater government action against domestic violence, the biggest source of violence against women in the Dominican Republic.
One such activity is the ‘Power and Control’ campaign recently launched by the office of the Attorney General for Women’s affairs and led by Deputy Attorney Roxana Reyes; it is designed to counsel victims of domestic abuse about the alternatives available to them. The Attorney General’s office already has a programme called National Victim Assistance which provides free counselling and legal representation (covering all types of crime), but more is clearly needed. The situation in the Dominican Republic is indeed shocking. The latest data from the Procuraduría Fiscal del Distrito Nacional (Santo Domingo) puts the number of complaints of domestic violence in the past two years at over 15,000, with this type of crime making up 23% of total offences reported in the capital alone – the single most reported offence. Of the 199 femicides in the past 12 months, 46% were as a result of domestic violence.
In the last year authorities have issued over 15,000 interim protection orders, made more than 1,000 arrests and inspected nearly 800 homes. It is not surprising that domestic violence levels remain so high in the Dominican Republic in comparison with other countries of the region given that the ‘ley contra la violencia domestica’ or Ley 24-97, was only established in January 1997. Until then domestic violence was legal and not even considered a human rights violation. Violence against women penetrates all strata of society. Even upper class, richer Dominican women are not immune, and are often sent out of the country with their children by their husbands to cover up the abuses they have suffered.
What happened to the unfortunate Ms Fructuoso is a case in point. She was separated from her ex-husband for two years and lived with almost constant threats, not only on her life but also on those of her mother and her four children (from a different marriage). This happened even though a restraining order had been placed on her husband and she had lodged complaints with eight different neighbourhood prosecutors. After having been powerless to help Ms Fructuoso, the police are now searching for the husband who has gone into hiding. Women’s groups will be hoping that Ms Bachelet’s visit will help not only to raise awareness but also to lead to some concrete proposals for tackling what is proving to be an intransigent social problem.
One way she may be able to help is by supporting the government’s Centre for the Care of Survivors of Domestic Violence which currently mainly functions in the Distrito Nacional. The centre gives women loans at 1% interest in order for them to start their own micro-businesses. The aim is to help them to reduce their financial dependence on their aggressors and to enable them to survive the trauma of the experience and the subsequent separation. However, between August 2007 and October 2010 only 83 women received such grants. A more rapid pace is needed as well as expansion into more rural communities where traditionally domestic abuse is less reported. With UN support funding and training may be forthcoming and allow for more effective government action.
Last month a group of women performed a ‘Bridal March’ through the campus of the Santo Domingo State University (UASD) in commemoration of a Dominican citizen murdered on her wedding day in New Jersey in 1999 by her ex-boyfriend. The group wants to raise awareness over the need to fight against this sort of violence and will be hoping that Ms Bachelet’s visit will spur on some concrete action.
A previous Bridal March in Santo Domingo.