The recent death of Jaraly Romero Guerrero, an 18-year-old woman from Montecristi, Dominican Republic, is no surprise to the country, or to her family members. Her boyfriend, who served as a policeman, fatally shot her one week after he had threatened her with a weapon. A cousin of the victim recounts that Guerrero was warned by her family members of the danger of being with her partner. Unfortunately, this kind of news is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic. As of 2021, the Dominican Republic has the second highest femicide rate in Latin America, with 2.7 deaths per 100,000 women. Despite the rise of women’s empowerment and protection groups, such as Mariposa RD and Patronato de Ayuda a Casos de Mujeres Maltratadas (PACAM), as well as changing cultural and identity trends, the country is still fighting a battle against the violent machismo attitude ingrained in the culture and children’s upbringings.
Machismo in the Culture
A culture of machismo—where men hold power over women—is prevalent throughout Latin America, and continues to reinforce gender norms. Many women who are raised in a machista household often have no choice but to continue behaving with such mindsets and ideologies. Even today, Dominican women are expected to take care of the home and children while the men assume the role of breadwinners. Such a mindset can become especially problematic when men have total control over the household’s expenses. Even if a woman in an abusive relationship wanted to separate from her husband, she might feel forced to stay with him to sustain her children financially. Such was the case for Dolores, a 76-year-old Dominican woman, who lived through a verbally and physically abusive marriage earlier in her life. As the mother of six children living in a small barrio in Santiago de los Caballeros, she felt forced to stay with her former husband to financially sustain the children. Not only that, but she also faced social pressure from her own mother who would remind her, “ese es el hombre que ella escogió y tiene que quedarse con el” (“that’s the man she chose so she has to stay with him”).
The unfortunate truth is that such beliefs are still very common and widespread in the country, partially due to how early they are ingrained in women. From a young age, girls are told to behave in feminine ways and avoid playing with boys or engaging in traditionally masculine activities. When interviewed, a young Dominican 14-year-old girl living in New York City mentioned how, at age six, her aunt rejected her dreams of a “universe-themed bedroom,” telling her the decorations were too masculine. Machismo has clearly played a role in the upbringing of Dominican children, and, although many women have faced limitations growing up because of such ideology, they continue to build upon the cycle by raising their own children the same way.
Nowadays, there are new global tendencies to protect gender equality; however, some women’s deep-rooted beliefs about machismo seem to play a more influential role in how they raise their children. Although many parents are working on changing their own views and attitudes, machista ideas could be spread and taught to children even unconsciously.
In May 2020, the Dominican Government Ministry of Women reported a decrease in the average number of calls received daily by the national domestic abuse hotline, known as Linea Mujer *212, from 31.1 the previous year to 22.4. As Janet Camilo, the former Minister of Women’s Affairs of the Dominican Republic, explains, this news should not be taken as an indicator of the decline of domestic violence and misogyny in the country. Instead, she argued, it is a clear signal of the confinement and oppression that women across the Dominican Republic and Latin America overall suffered at the hands of the person who promised them love. One of the most famous cases is that of Zuleika Martinez, a mother of three children who had paused her nursing studies during the pandemic to prevent infection from COVID-19. Her husband routinely abused and ultimately killed her in the presence of their children. The sad reality is that domestic violence expands beyond verbal and physical violence; in many cases, it can even escalate to femicide.
Effects on Survivors
One of the first images associated with domestic violence is one of physical and verbal aggression against a romantic partner. As if such abuse was not enough, survivors of gender and domestic violence often fall victim to other forms of abuse such as emotional and economic oppression and manipulation.
For women who survive domestic violence, the path to recovery is a long one. Often, these women are scarred emotionally and physically for the rest of their lives. At just 19 years old, Yocairi Amarante almost lost her life when she was attacked with a corrosive acid by her former partner. Such a barbaric act caused Amarante to lose her right eye and disfigured her. For the rest of her life, Amarante will suffer the visible and emotional harm that her former partner caused her. As of December 2021, 14 of the 15 people who have fallen victim to acid attacks are women.
In addition to the horrible and direct abuse that women face at the hands of their partners, they are also subject to continuous economic challenges and pressures. Juana Lopez, a victim of gender-based violence by the father of her children, tells how her ex-husband brought a new woman to their home and denied her and her children any rights over the house they built together. In addition to the horrible physical and emotional abuse that Lopez suffered, the economic abuse she has suffered from her former partner has left her and her family vulnerable. She mentions that one major reason she would return to her former husband despite the physical abuse was to avoid financial hardships for her children. It is clear that even during their toxic and dangerous relationship, economic pressure served as an indirect form of abuse that pressured Lopez to remain in such a horrible situation.
Other Victims of Femicide
In 2022, around 70 children were orphaned in the Dominican Republic as a result of femicide. However, it is worth noting that the statistics may vary due to a lack of data, where some sources report even more than 100 children orphaned. In some of the saddest cases, some of the children are present when the femicide occurs, leading to anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Manuel Martinez, the father of a femicide victim, explained to reporters how his 16-year-old grandson was deeply affected by the death of both of his parents. Shockingly, Martinez’s daughter, Miguelina Martinez, reported in a video that circulated before her death that even after 15 days of her complaint of domestic violence, the police did not do anything. The 18 complaints she reported to the police did not save her.
Despite the gravity and prevalence of the situation, the orphans of femicide victims are often forgotten by society. In response to the crisis of mental health among orphans, who often witnessed domestic violence and femicide, the government created a program in 2015 called “Protocolo del Programa de Atención a Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Huérfanos por Feminicidios” (Protocol of the Care Program for Boys, Girls and Adolescents Orphaned by Femicide) to provide orphans with psychological support. However, despite its attempt, the program has been inefficient in supporting many orphan cases due to an insufficient budget and a lack of data regarding which orphans were the children of femicide victims. Because of the failure of this government program, children orphaned by femicide are often cared for by family members or left to fend for themselves. In some cases, orphans also have to assume responsibility for other family members; Julissa, an adolescent girl who lost her mother to a femicide attack and now has to take care of her own child and younger siblings, explained that she had to marry to survive.
Julissa is only one of the thousands of women in the Dominican Republic and throughout Latin America who, because of financial and social forces that make individual women vulnerable, is now continuing the cycle of being trapped in unhealthy marriages created by the oppressive pressures of machismo.
Auwarter spoke with Dolores on March 5, 2023.
Auwarter spoke with the interviewee who prefered to remain anonymous on March 7, 2023.