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Rise in Violence Against Women Prompts Puerto Rican Government to Declare State of Emergency

Jeff Truesdell
·3-min read

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images Activists in San Juan rally in September 2020 to demand action to address violence against women in Puerto Rico.

Responding to a rise in murders and assaults against women, Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency for gender violence in the U.S. territory, drawing attention to what he described as "the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all, lack of action."

"Gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have space or tolerance in the Puerto Rico that we aspire to," Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a news release. "It is my duty and my commitment as governor to establish a STOP to gender violence and for these purposes I have declared a state of emergency."

More than 1 in 4 women in the Caribbean and Latin America experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperative and Development, reports The Miami Herald. A watchdog group, the Observatory for Gender Equality, counted 60 femicides in Puerto Rico last year -- a 62 percent increase from the previous year.

Sunday's emergency declaration seeks to elevate and focus the government's response. It follows the high-profile death of Angie Noemi González, a nurse and mother of three from Barranquitas, whose partner of 16 years, Roberto Rodríguez, allegedly admitted to her murder, according to police, reports the Herald.

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The governor's declaration puts forth several measures, including the creation of a mobile phone app through which victims of gender violence can seek emergency help while hiding the message to protect them from their aggressor.

It also establishes a program in which law enforcement officers follow up with women who have obtained protective orders, and a committee to recommend and monitor public policy changes.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images A September 2020 protest led by the activist group Feminist Collective demanded a response to gender-based assaults, murders and disappearances.

In a report titled Failure to Police Crimes of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Puerto Rico, the ACLU said in 2012 that Puerto Rico had the highest per capita rate in the world of women over 14 killed by their partners.

"The numbers are disturbing, and climbing: 107 women were killed by their intimate partners in a five-year period from 2007 to 2011," the report states. "The number of women killed by their intimate partners jumped significantly in 2011, to 30 women killed. That year, the number of women killed by their partners in Puerto Rico was six times higher than Los Angeles, which has about the same population of 3.7 million. In 2006, the PRPD reported 23 murders of women at the hands of their partners or spouses, placing Puerto Rico first on an international list comparing the number of women killed in each country/territory."

Pierluisi, who took office earlier this month, promised to address the issue, according to CNN.

"To eradicate gender violence, we have to make concerted efforts between the state and society in which, in addition to a comprehensive plan, there is an educational approach to teach our children that every human being has to be respected, as well as empower to our next generations to eradicate this evil," he said in his statement declaring the emergency.

Advocacy groups, who have rallied on social media and in the streets, embraced the governor's actions.

"Today we allow ourselves to feel joy for the progress that it signifies for the feminist struggle of Puerto Rico and the world, having made the State recognize its responsibility and obligation to tackle the crisis of gender violence," the organization Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, which had pushed for the emergency declaration, stated on its Facebook page.

"Today our rage carries some hope," the organization posted. "Today, as always, our hope is radical. We will not take a step back."