women fists raised in air

The Growing Problem of Femicides in Puerto Rico and How The Quarantine Has Worsened It

iFemicides, the murders of a female based on their gender, have been a growing global problem, and are the center of feminist discussion and activism, alongside the access to safe and affordable abortions. It’s an insidious effect from a Hetero-patriarchal society, and they have been historically mislabeled as “crimes of passion,” ignoring the blatant example of misogyny as the root of the problem.

In Latin America, women took the streets in massive numbers to raise their voices against this issue. In Puerto Rico’s context, the number of femicides is growing exponentially; feminist groups, women’s shelters, and other female-led organizations have called for both Ex-Governor Ricardo Roselló and now Wanda Vázquez Garced, to declare the State of Emergency. The government has systematically ignored the dire situation and now, it's even more pressing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many feminist groups and organizations have highlighted the fact that due to the quarantine policy, women are suffering domestic violence because they, unfortunately, live with their abusers. Plenty of organizations, people, and students demand police to crack down on the cases and as well as awareness campaigns to people in these situations to get help, like the one in Spain. Through their campaign women could ask for a specific type of mask at the pharmacy. The mask would act as a code to alert the employee about their situation.

In Puerto Rico, women’s shelters are vigilant even during this pandemic; they’ve been publishing their helplines through social media and the news to bring awareness to the issue and showing victims that they are not alone.

Hisotrically, Puerto Ricans have accused The Puerto Rico Police of corruption and lousy investigation practices. Some examples include police brutality against immigrants, the excessive force used historically against students during strikes, and against protestors, the unresolved murder of Antonia Martinez, who was shot by a police officer during a strike, among other cases. According to a report released by the ACLU in 2012, “the Puerto Rico Police Department systematically fails to protect women and girls from abusive partners and is not policing crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Puerto Rico has a database that analyses the statistics of the cases from 2014 to 2018. The results of the statistical analysis back the claims that the police department under counts the numbers of femicides on the island. Carmen Castello is the leader of the investigation.

Castello is a retired social worker who has been dedicating her time to following up on femicide cases. She compiles the data on her Facebook page “Seguimiento de casos,” (“Case Tracking"). Castello has been doing so since 2011. She’s spent her career providing aid to vulnerable and struggling Puerto Ricans. Think: everything from teenage pregnancy to sexual assault/abuse survivors.

Last year, the anti-police brutality group Kilómetro Cero and the feminist organization Proyecto Matria teamed up to create Persistence of Indolence. Persistence of Indolence is a report on femicides in Puerto Rico that use Castelló’s data to analyze and shed light on the issue. The study found that many women were missing from the numbers drawn by Puerto Rico’s Police Bureau between 2014-2018 by 11-27% each year. According to the report, during the five years, there were as many as 266 femicides on the archipelago.

During the current quarantine/social distancing to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in cases involving gender-based/domestic violence. The first case of femicide was in Aguada on March 15th, the first day the curfew was declared on the island. San Juan has seen reports of roughly 13 cases of domestic violence, Carolina with 12, and Guayama with 15. These numbers are alarming, especially now with the pandemic. There are fewer police available during the outbreak due to some suspicious cases of COVID-19 within police forces in municipalities. With everything that's happening, many groups are actively raising their voices through social media and news outlets to bring awareness. They've offered help and resources to people in these situations. It's an important issue that needs to be tackled before it gets any worse.