A Reporter’s Year-Long Investigation Reveals the Extent of Puerto Rico’s Domestic Violence Epidemic

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For the last year, reporter Andrea Gonzalez-Ramirez has been working on an investigative feature that examines the growing crisis of violence against women in Puerto Rico, where the number of femicides has increased at an alarming rate since Hurricane Maria.

The report, which highlights systemic inaction from law enforcement and government failure to protect women, ran on Tuesday on Medium’s GEN publication and comes at a time when calls to domestic violence hotlines have been surging at a global level. In Puerto Rico, many advocates fear that the current coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate violence against women. They’ve urged government agencies to do more.

“Growing up in Puerto Rico, I became aware early on that intimate partner violence was both very common and extremely taboo to talk about,” Gonzalez-Ramirez explained today in a Q&A with GEN’s newsletter, Flux. “I know people who are survivors and have seen for years the frustration there is among advocates who feel the government is not doing enough. It eventually became an issue that I wanted to explore as a journalist.”

Gonzalez-Ramirez’s story, titled “In Puerto Rico, an Epidemic of Domestic Violence Hides in Plain Sight,” surfaces some devastating statistics. In example, intimate partner murder more than doubled from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017 to 1.7 per 100,000 women in 2018. Gonzalez-Ramirez notes that although police have said that reported domestic violence murders dropped to just 10 incidents in 2019, the numbers are likely to be much higher. She cites a study that shows that the Puerto Rico Police Department undercounted the murders of women by between 11% and 27% annually between 2014 and 2018.

Gonzalez-Ramirez also writes that organizations such as Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer, Proyecto Matria, and Taller Salud have asked the island’s leaders to declare a state of emergency to prioritize the crisis and increase funding to public agencies; she explains that Governor Wanda Vázquez (whose administration declined to comment for the story) issued an “alert” in 2019 without directly reallocating funds to the issue.

Gonzalez-Ramirez’s herculean reporting will hopefully lead to more action and encourage both government and law enforcement in Puerto Rico to protect women on the island. It also serves to raise awareness of an issue that’s gotten little attention in the U.S. mainland. The story—which was reported in partnership with Type Investigations, where Gonzalez-Ramirez is an Ida B. Wells Fellow—is available in both English and Spanish.