Domestic Abuse: Puerto Rico’s Women in Crisis

Alba, 36, is a skinny female who appears to be youthful than she is.

Her entire body is lined with tattoos. In the middle of just one breast, a drawing represents, “los golpes de la vida” (the really hard knocks of lifetime) a different on her ankle ties her to her sister forever on her arm, a different recalls the most cancers that killed her father.

On her again are a amount of butterflies—symbols of the fragility that marks her lifetime.

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, it left Alba’s residence, situated in the countryside encompassing Cayey, a modest group on the southeast of the island, severely harmed and without the need of energy.

But Alba (at her ask for her whole identify is withheld to safeguard her identification) experienced additional than residence destruction as a end result of the storm.

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Alba (left), a target of domestic violence and Luz, her authorized intercessor, all through an job interview at the Hogar Nueva Mujer in Cayey. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

“In the midst of all our desperation,” she recalled. “My companion and I argued even additional violently he left, and I tried out to get my lifetime.

“I cut my veins and took some supplements.”

She woke up in the clinic. Immediately after treatment method for her injuries, Alba returned residence with her two youngsters, aged 18 and 7, from a prior relationship. There was no trace of her companion till Dec. 22, when 6 photographs, fired in the dim, hit her car parked in the avenue, and pockmarked the outer wall of the home exactly where the boys slept.

“I knew it was him since the day right before, he need to have observed my ex-spouse arrive to bring a existing to my youngsters, and he need to have completed so out of jealousy,” she claimed.

4 days later, Aurora gained a defense purchase from a decide and, on a friend’s recommendation, moved to Hogar Nueva Mujer (New Women’s Area), a women’s shelter in Cayey.

She joined hundreds of other women who have fled abusive spouses or companions given that the hurricane, reflecting what women’s advocates on the island have referred to as an “astronomical” enhance in domestic violence.

According to John Jay University Prof. Jodie Roure, who is effective with human legal rights and women’s businesses in Puerto Rico, the amount of 911 phone calls skyrocketed from 211 in the instant aftermath of the storm to 889 the adhering to month—with some 1,747 phone calls acquired by November, 2017.

In an before job interview on Criminal Justice Matters, Roure claimed, “the deficiency of accessibility to foodstuff and energy has exacerbated stress” in lots of people hit toughest by the storm, and contributed as properly to a amount of “murder-suicides” related to domestic conflicts.

The trouble has not abated.

Alba is just one of 223 victims of domestic violence that Hogar Nueva Mujer assisted involving September 2017 and February 2018—36 additional than those people recorded in the very same period of time involving 2016 and 2017. Like some of the other victims of violence, she did not use 911 to contact for help—relying in its place on a friend’s recommendation—which suggests that the amount of women fleeing abusive relationships just after the hurricane might be even larger.

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Vilmarie Rivera, director of the center for women victims of domestic violence, Hogar Nueva Mujer. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Vilmarie Rivera, the director of Nueva Mujer, claimed the center has improved its safety defense as it tries to cope with the increase in desire for its companies.

“We had to assure that no volunteer was really an attacker, but it was also a fantastic time to allow for the victims to method us, with any excuse,” claimed Rivera, who pointed out that some women arrive just to get benefit of the laundry, to decide on up medicines, or get foodstuff for their people.  In that period of time the center had the only energy generator in the spot.

Nueva Mujer—which is effective primarily on the housing trouble by supporting victims of violence in obtaining a residence and setting up new independent lives—is just one of 8 shelters for Puerto Rican women active right before the hurricane, and just one of 5 that did not have to suspend the activities since of the damages experienced.

It assisted find Alba a new residence, and set her in touch with entrepreneurship programs that will assist her establish a new lifetime. Just one of her plans is to open up a modest beauty company.

“I knew they would assist me,” she suggests. “But I did not visualize so significantly.”

Rivera, like all gender-related activists on the island, thinks that violence towards women just after the hurricane has improved further more, but the genuine numbers are nonetheless really hard to get.

Vilma González, director of Coordinadora Paz Para las Mujeres (Peace for Women of all ages Coordinating Middle), suggests the most latest facts on domestic violence offered by Puerto Rico’s Place of work of the Women’s Advocate arrives from 2016.

“I sent a message requesting the situations divided for each thirty day period in 2017 but they have not answered,” claimed Gonzalez.

Rivera suggests there are other problems as properly.

“There’s no protocol (by the federal government) to handle the risk which women faced,” she claimed in an job interview.

As a end result, lots of women have stayed with abusive companions “because they have not observed an choice.”

Like Jodie Roure, Rivera blames the enhance in domestic violence on financial hardship brought on by the storm.

“Women have lost their jobs and guys counted on that wage, in addition lots of guys were also unemployed,” she claimed. “Despair provides nervousness, anger, irritation.”

*“The hurricane has shown the total failure of the process and has brought out inequality: Poverty in Puerto Rico has a woman’s face, but there are no community insurance policies for them.”

In Vega Alta, a modest city on the northern coastline of Puerto Rico, Hogar Ruth (Ruth’s Area) has been active given that 1984. Inspite of the deficiency of funds and materials, and the destruction brought on to the setting up by the hurricane, it has hardly ever stopped supplying shelter to the victims and their youngsters.

“Today we have 21 friends, divided into 8 rooms,” stated coordinator Damaris Feliciano in an job interview final thirty day period.

“During the hurricane we were 42. The women who knocked on our doors were not only victims of violence but pregnant ladies or women with newborn infants who did not want to remain in the insecure and unhealthy camps organized by the federal government in educational facilities or in fitness centers.”

Hogar Ruth dealt with 182 situations of domestic violence involving Oct and December 2017, nearly 3 moments the amount of those people assisted in the very same period of time in the prior 12 months (63).

Katalina (a pseudonym), who arrived at the shelter on Oct. 11, 2017, was just one of them.

She moved to the island seven yrs in the past, adhering to a Puerto Rican male she met in her indigenous region, Ecuador, with a newborn in her arms.

“As extensive as he arrived to pay a visit to me, every thing was great but as quickly as we got listed here, he adjusted,” Katalina recalled. “He addressed me as if I were stupid, as if I was often completely wrong, and also spoke terribly to the boy or girl.

“The residence exactly where we lived was not a first rate area to raise our daughter but I was listed here by itself I did not know who to check with for assist and he stored us like prisoners.”

The hurricane and its aftermath in some way gave Katalina the bravery to escape her problem.

“After seven yrs, I could not stand it any more, and when Maria arrived, it was genuinely as well significantly,” she recalled. “One day I accompanied him to his sister’s residence, she saw me cry and despite the fact that we did not get along quite properly she handed me the amount of a decide.”

Immediately after listening to Katalina’s story, the decide issued an purchase of protection—one of the 442 issued in the course of Puerto Rico involving September 20 and mid-Oct 2017. She and her boy or girl were then escorted by police to her residence, exactly where she was then assisted to pack up her possessions and move to Hogar Ruth.

Hogar Ruth, as a transitional crisis lodge, shelters women for a highest of 90 days right before relocating to their new residence. But Katalina’s companion violated the purchase by heading to her daughter’s college, and the shelter viewed as it safer to postpone their transfer.

Meanwhile, other establishments are applying federal grant money to pay for psychological counseling to victims of domestic violence.

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Cynthia Garcia Coll of Albizu College, San Juan. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Cynthia Garcia Coll, a psychologist and professor of human enhancement at Albizu College in San Juan, acquired $400,000 from the Victims of Criminal offense Act (VOCA) application to present psychological and authorized assistance to domestic violence victims at the university’s clinic.

The university, which describes by itself as the “first professional college of psychology in North The united states and the Caribbean,” established up a clinic to residence the application in January, 2018, staffed by 16 superior psychology doctoral students, 4 supervisors, two lawyers, and two authorized intercessors who put together victims of domestic violence for courtroom testimony.

“After the hurricane, our challenge has taken on an even additional crucial this means,” claimed Coll.

For the duration of its 1st 3 months of operation, the clinic has labored with 14 women affected by the hurricane.

“We contact them victims of victimization facts,” claimed Coll. “Domestic violence is frequently just just one of the challenges to be addressed, and just just one of the aspects that has led folks to find them selves in their precise problem.

“If [these] aspects are not tackled, the possibility of recurrence is quite higher: women frequently go from just one violent relationship to a different, and the epilogue can be tragic.”

In the absence of fantastic facts, just one female has begun to chronicle those people tragedies on her possess.

Carmen Castello

Carmen Castellò operates her Facebook site on murdered or disappeared Puerto Rican women out of her condominium.

Carmen Castelló Ortiz, a former social worker, devotes a fantastic portion of her day to registering situations of missing women or victims of femicide.

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A gallery of the women who have disappeared in Puerto Rico given that the hurricane, prepared by Carmen Castellò, administrator of the fb webpage, Seguimiento De Casos. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

The laptop or computer in her modest condominium in just one of the island’s cities holds dozens of folders exactly where she archives situations she finds in newspapers. The details contains pics of the victims, facts claimed by the police, and a quick summary of functions which she then publishes on her Facebook webpage “Seguimiento De Casos (Tracing of Cases).”

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Ortiz has recorded a amount of heart-rending stories, these kinds of as a 78-12 months-outdated female who was murdered.

“For me, they are like family members,” Ortiz claimed, as she scrolled by the faces of the women whose tracks have been lost. “I do not know if I could endure if just one of my loved ones disappeared.”

But details and specifics are nonetheless really hard to get. The island’s General public Security Office launched in mid-Oct a record with 33 other missing women.

Gonzalez of Coordinadora de Paz Para Mujer fears that guiding these numbers there might be human trafficking.  But  Puerto Rico’s overworked police force—which professional a walkout before this 12 months in excess of issues of missing additional time pay—has not been capable to look into further more.

That has left Carmen as the missing women’s sole voice.

Claudia Bellante

Claudia Bellante

“I want to continue to keep the interest, motivate the police to operate additional and better, so these women are not forgotten,” she suggests.

But the operate of Puerto Rico’s advocates for women might only have just begun. The up coming hurricane time in the Caribbean begins in less than two months.

Claudia Bellante is an Italian freelance journalist who writes on Latin The united states. She has published article content in Internazionale, El País, The Caravan, and Rhythms Regular monthly. Pics by Mirko Cecchi at www.mirkocecchi.com.  Readers’ responses are welcome.

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