Coffee, Cocoa, and Sex Workers…
Those are the three most exported from the Dominican Republic. The DR ranks as the 4th highest in the world among countries exporting sex workers.
It starts within the country with prostitution being legal and prevalent among tourist and locals alike. In a small coastal town about 10 minutes from us, you can drive through at any time of day and see a group of girls/women standing on the street and ready for “work”.
In hotels all around the DR, rooms are often sold by the hour. A typical hotel here is located within a complex that you drive into and park directly in a one stall garage. The garage door goes down to protect privacy and indicates that that room and woman is not available.
Although the legal age for prostitution is 18, it is estimated that 1 in 4 girls working the street or in brothels are under age 15.
Sex trafficking in the DR has gotten international attention. International Justice Mission and Underground Railroad, both organizations that work to free women and children from sex trafficking, have established offices in the DR and are making a difference.
The cause of prostitution is simple: poverty.
Over 25% of the Dominican population is said to be living below the poverty line. Educational standards are very low and the majority of people stop attending school at a young age. The adult literacy rate is low and unemployment is high. It is not surprising with so little opportunity and so little hope of future opportunity that many Dominican women turn to prostitution.
It is said that boys can escape the cycle of poverty in the DR through baseball. Girls are taught that they can provide food for their children through selling their bodies. What can change the trajectory for a girl living in the DR? Education and opportunity to make a living.
A business just up the street from us has a purpose we are familiar with. Within the building it has a bakery and coffee shop, a gift shop of handmade jewelry and a spa. All 3 businesses train and employ girls and women who have been rescued out of sex trafficking or have chosen to leave prostitution.
Nearby is a house that houses the women and their children. There is daycare/preschool for younger children. The women receive job training, counseling and hope for their future. Their older children attend school and the prayer is that the cycle is broken.
“If you release victims without giving them proper care and treatment they will often go back to being sexually exploited,” said Pablo Villeda, IJM’s vice-president of operations in Latin America, who works closely with local authorities in sex trafficking cases and in supporting rescued victims.
This organization is making a difference! We have made sure to frequent the bakery and coffee shop (yum!) and in the process talked with the girls working there. We have met with leaders in the church and of this organization. Through our research we have found that lasting changes to poverty come through training and business development.
The Yada Project has partnered to sell jewelry and other creations these women have made. We are excited to support the efforts to bring dignity, hope and love to the Dominican!