If anything reflects the immense inequality in which Puerto Rico keeps half of its population, made up of women, it is the state double standard on femicides against other crimes: the fact that a dozen women –at a rate of one per month- were murdered doesn’t seem reason enough to look for ways to stop this serious problem.
Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice, Maite D. Oronoz Rodríguez has described gender-based violence as one of the most brutal expressions of inequality and that calls for urgent social intervention focused on education. She is right.
Fighting gender-based violence requires individual and collective willingness and also political determination and commitment.
Political branches of the State and society in general project an unsustainable apathy. For every woman killed, thousands more are physically and emotionally assaulted daily. Others suffer marginalization or harassment in their workplace, which also causes pain to their families. All these situations impact productivity and cost money to companies, the government, families and the rest of the island. Sexual harassment cases in the Municipality of Guaynabo are an example of this.
Early last month, the government took a step towards, although still shy, by issuing a national state of alert due to gender-based violence. But little has been seen about sending a loud and powerful message of zero tolerance to that social suffering. Organizations that provide services and raise awareness of the problem presented specific proposals for authorities to consider crimes against women as a real threat. Among other measures, they advocate to apply protocols similar to those that would be implemented in cases of disease outbreaks and epidemics.
Gender-based violence is one of the worst epidemics, whose germ is easily spread. Education has proved to be an effective immunization tool. Our boys and girls should grow up learning that everyone has the same rights to a full and dignified life, without distinctions.
However, our courts had to open more specialized domestic violence courtrooms to address frequent cases of a preventable problem. Next week they will open the eighth courtroom for these frequent incidents. The trend shows it is urgent to define strategies to prevent this evil.
Statistics reveal negligence. For example, domestic violence cases on the Police website are limited to the first three months of this year. In that period, there were 1,385 cases reported, charges filed in 731 of those cases, but there were only thirteen convictions. According to the Women's Advocate Office, between January and July, the same police source reported 3,880 incidents.
Domestic violence is one of the many attacks against women. Ten women were murdered at the hands of their partners or former partners and until August 10, five others were killed and authorities have not yet determined the motive for those crimes. Just during the first week of October, two women were murdered. On the other hand, the number of rapes reported until July was identical to the same period last year.
Violence against women is fuelled and spread by a culture that sees them as inferiors. That same despicable culture appears in child abuse. Police figures, available only for 2018, report 1,182 cases of child molestation or sexual abuse. The victims were girls in 974 cases.
Every person is equal under the law and that precept must be protected in every home and community as well as by public and private entities. Authorities are called to lead by the example. Not addressing the seriousness of gender-based violence sends a message of distance before a problem that is undermining our society.