BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic — Daniela leans on the bar of La Criolla, one of the most popular nightclubs on Avenida Duarte. She arrived here in April after paying a trafficker $70 to get her out of Haiti — nearly four months after a deadly earthquake devastated her homeland.
She says she is 18 years old and has sex with tourists for money. But her two Dominican friends scoff, telling reporters that she's no older than 16.
Daniela said the money she earns she gives to her mother and aunt, who also survived the quake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people.
She and her girlfriends are part of the local tourism industry that thrives on sex and exploitation, brazenly in the open and despite claims from the government that it has intensified prosecutions and sanctions against smugglers.
The girls here offer themselves on the streets, beaches and waist-deep water. Some girls walk up to restaurant patrons and reach for their crotches. Other girls flash tourists from the back of motorcycles while the drivers slow to a crawl or stop to describe their physical attributes or sexual talents.
Ramón Brito, a tourism police spokesman, said officers are taking "preventive measures" to stem the practice.
"It is a continuous struggle," he said.
But on a recent night, reporters — and tourists — watched a police supervisor stand over a teenage prostitute as she rubbed his belly from a chair. The cop and the girl laughed.
Older men walk along Avenida Duarte holding hands with scantily clad girls.
Another young man who introduced himself as a tour guide boasts that he has "Haitian girls of all ages." The young man described in aberrant detail the shape of the developing body of a 12-year-old. "Her (breasts) are still growing."
The industry thrives, and has even become competitive to the point where young Dominican prostitutes complain that Haitian girls who arrived after the earthquake are cutting into their business and about to outnumber them.
"Men who have been here before are confident that the police won't arrest them if they pick up the younger girls," said one Dominican girl, age 18, who declined to give her name, fearing reproach from her friends for talking to reporters.
Many of the newcomers seem to be younger than 17 and, despite wearing heavy makeup, skintight dresses and stilettos, often appear embarrassed and awkward when they offer tourists their bodies for less than $30.
"Every day they come over, one tells another and so on, but I think that's wrong," said Rosa Elina, a Haitian who does therapeutic massages on the beach. "We know they are minors, but if I ask about their age I'll be in trouble."
Almost all have arrived in the country in caravans of hustlers who charge in cash and in kind.
When the tourism police do organize street sweeps, the Haitian children pass fake Haitian passports among themselves that show they are adults, said one of the young Dominicans.
About 30 yards from the beach, opposite the Hotel Don Juan de Boca Chica, a young Haitian girl — she claims she is 22 and arrived two months earlier — approached an El Nuevo Herald reporter to offer him sex in a hotel room, price negotiable. She said she was there with her friend Nanún, a 16-year-old Haitian who left Port-au-Prince in April. Nanún stood nearby, flirting on the beach with an American tourist.
"Her parents died and she found herself on the street," said Nanún's friend. "She's crazy."