Prostitution has long been practiced openly in much of the Dominican Republic but the trafficking of people for the sex trade, both within the country and overseas, has become so widespread that the government believes it must now impose controls on the industry, Attorney General Francisco Dominguez said.
"We are talking in many cases about young girls who are semi-enslaved," Dominguez said at a news conference.
Prostitutes themselves are not facing arrest since there is no law in the Dominican Republic that specifically forbids the practice. But it is illegal to make money off the sexual services of another person or to force someone to work as a prostitute. Those who use the services of prostitutes can be charged as accessories to pandering and face a sentence of 10-15 years in prison, officials said.
No one has been arrested so far. It is unclear at this point how strictly it will be enforced in a country that has an already overburdened justice system and that has been long been known as a destination for people seeking the services of prostitutes.
The prospect of arresting clients or pimps angered Jacqueline Montero, president of a non-governmental group that represents sex workers called the Movement of Women United. She said any crackdown will deprive poor women of income they need to survive.
"This is a witch hunt against us," Montero said.