In 1997, the National Congress of the Dominican Republic approved Law 24-97 Against Domestic Violence in a bid to alter the state’s response to violence against women. Law 24-97 introduced important changes to the country’s Criminal Code, criminalizing violent and discriminatory conduct in an effort to guarantee women equal protection and equal benefit of the law. The need for state action was urgent. A letter submitted to the Senate in 1996 in support of the draft bill that would later become Law 24-97 noted that murder was the sixth most common cause of death among Dominican women between the ages of fifteen and forty-five, that one in six Dominican homes experienced some type of violence, and that eighty percent of women who sought health care did so as a result of domestic violence.
Prior to 1997, the Dominican Criminal Code was in dire need of reform. Substantive provisions in the Code dated back to the introduction of the C6digo de Instrucci6n Criminal y C6digo Penal (1826), modeled on the Napoleonic Codes and introduced following the Haitian occupation of 1821. Although the Code was modified after Dominican independence in 1844, for the most part it remained antiquated. To eliminate remnants of an authoritarian and patrimonial past, legislative reform, especially in the area of criminal law and criminal procedure, was deemed crucial to democratic reform. As one commentator has noted, criminal law reform signifies “la muestra de la renovaci6n democrtica latinoamericana,” or “proof of the renewal of Latin American democracy.”