Gender-Based Violence Increased in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria, But We Don’t Know by How Much

Sherman, Jezebel, May 9, 2018

It’s been
eight months since Puerto Rico was first devastated by Hurricane Maria in
September 2017, and the situation has yet to improve—leaving in its waste toxic,
unlivable conditions
for much of the U.S. territory. Women are
especially vulnerable. 
RicoPhoto: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

to a new article from Centro de
Periodismo Investigativo
, domestic violence and sexual assault
organizations in Puerto Rico have reported an increase in violence against
women since the storm, but a combination of the island’s infrastructure
breakdown and unreliable statistics from official sources (including the
police) makes it impossible to quantify. As the World Health Organization makes
clear in its report of
violence and disasters
, sexual violence tends to increase following
natural disasters for a variety of reasons: increased stress and feelings of
powerlessness due to bereavement, loss of property and loss of livelihood,ƒ
mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder,ƒ the scarcity of
basic provisions, destruction of social networks, breakdown of law enforcement,
cessation of violence prevention and other social support programs, ƒand
disruptions to the economy—all of which has plagued Puerto Rico.
Rivera, Executive Director of the Cayey-based domestic violence shelter Casa
Nueva Mujer, told CPI that the island’s official records on domestic violence
don’t match what she’s seeing day-to-day. “The situation is,” she said, “that
we don’t have statistics that prove that we have an increase of those cases.”
reason these numbers are unreliable is most likely that they’re compiled by
three, unintegrated entities: the Women’s Advocate Office, the Police Bureau
and the administrative courts. That, and the damages caused by Hurricane
Maria—i.e., no access to the internet or phones—ceased victims’ ability to
contact authorities or help. This, of course, doesn’t include those who didn’t
own phones in the first place; those who don’t have the ability to travel
to shelters; or those who have the privilege of mobility, only to learn their
nearest shelters have been shuttered due to hurricane damage.
It gets
worse: the Puerto Rican Police Bureau, too, has a longstanding failing to
report cases of violence against women—in 2011, the United States Department of
Justice found that the agency was underreporting
sexual assault
, that, partnered with Puerto Rico’s standing as
having one of the highest rates
of violence
against women in the world, a number that is only
, makes for an intensification of the issue. Violence
against women is clearly not a priority.
Pagán of the women’s organization Proyecto Matria, told CPI:

“Women in
the south of the island didn’t have a place to go…For us, it’s as if [the
Women’s Advocate Office] doesn’t exist, After the hurricane they were they were
totally lost. Before or after the hurricane they didn’t have a campaign to
orient women about their rights and how to deal with domestic violence.”