Puerto Ricans demand state of emergency amid rise in violence against women

While Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from multiple turmoil, including an economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis plagues the territory: increasing violence against women. In the past two weeks, Puerto Rican media have reported the killing of three women and an attack on a transgender woman.
According to the Observatory for Gender Equality in Puerto Rico, at least 37 direct and indirect femicides were registered on the island from January 2020 to September 2020.
On September 28, hundreds of Puerto Ricans took to the streets urging the government to take action and calling on Governor Wanda Vázquez to declare a state of emergency. In Old San Juan, protesters held signs reading "Estado de Emergencia YA" ("State of Emergency Now") and "Ni Una Más Ni Una Menos" (which roughly translates as "Not one more, one more" means less ").
Hours before the protest, authorities confirmed the death of Rosimar Rodríguez, a 20-year-old woman who was kidnapped on September 17 and found dead in a car in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Officials are still investigating her death.
PHOTO: People led by the Feminist Collective activist group are protesting Governor Wanda Vazquez's call for a state of emergency in response to recent gender-based violence and women's disappearances in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2020. ( Ricardo Arduengo / AFP via Getty Images)
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Two days after Rodríguez was found dead, Michelle Ramos Vargas, a transgender woman, was fatally shot in San German, Puerto Rico. A week later, Nashaly Cristina Torres, 22, was killed in Villalba, Puerto Rico.
As of October 5, at least 12 women, including five underage girls, were missing in Puerto Rico, according to the Observatory for Equality in Puerto Rico.
MORE: The shooting kills 6 in Puerto Rico, leads to an emergency meeting
Unfortunately, the situation is nothing new for the island. Yet activists, nonprofits, community and state leaders, and citizens continue to advocate change. Most recently, a movement against violence against women broke out on social media.
"Before Hurricane María and Irma, we denounced a call for a state of emergency because we saw that not all institutions had made the issue a priority," said Lourdes Inoa Monegro, program director at Taller Salud, a nonprofit feminist organization that helps women to deal with the ongoing violence against them.
While Inoa Monegro said violence against women was already an issue that was largely ignored on the island, it got worse after both hurricanes caused the destruction of the territory. "At that moment we didn't have statistics, but we had our ears," she told ABC News. Through the community, the organization learned that violence against women on the island is increasing.
Inoa Monegro said women in the community said to her, "I fear for my life or my safety. And I don't see where to go, nationwide."
Domestic violence murders doubled in the aftermath of Hurricane María, according to a recent study by gen.medium and Type Investigations. "At least 23 women on the island of 3.2 million people were killed by their current or former intimate partners this year [2018], causing the intimate partner homicide rate to drop from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017 to 1.7 per 100,000 women increased. "
According to gen.medium, no new data on domestic violence murders have been reported since 2018.
PHOTO: People led by the Feminist Collective activist group are protesting Governor Wanda Vazquez's call for a state of emergency in response to recent gender-based violence and women's disappearances in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2020. ( Ricardo Arduengo / AFP via Getty Images)
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"We have denounced on several occasions that the catastrophe caused by the hurricane was not entirely natural. It was also a political catastrophe on how to address the issues of quality of life and safety for the people of Puerto Rico," said Inoa Monegro. Her concerns include the well-being and safety of all women on the island.
"We want action to be taken," she said. "We need the state to do something about it."
A draft executive order to combat violence against women on the island is being examined by Governor Wanda Vázquez, according to a press release from the governor's office.
Although Vázquez - whose term ends in January - recognizes the crisis of gender-based violence on the island, the press release does not mention the possibility of a state of emergency. Just last week, the governor approved President Donald Trump for re-election, despite widespread criticism of his handling of hurricane aid in Puerto Rico.
Inoa Monegro said citizens' calls for a state of emergency by the local government had not been heard. ABC News reached out to the governor's office to inquire about the state of emergency requirements, but no response was received.
An official state of emergency would provide the island with resources to combat gender-based violence in Puerto Rico.
"We are at war and we are losing a soldier every day," said Joanna Cifredo, an activist and transgender woman.
MORE: Puerto Rico governor believes fatal shots are hate crimes
Cifredo is one of the many women who took to the streets to protest, to look for change. "For Alexa, for Serena, for Penelope, for Yampi, for Layla, for Kevin, for Rosimar and for everyone else that was taken from us. We ask the government to declare a state of emergency because of 'violencia machista' (roughly) translated in misogynist violence) ", wrote Cifredo during the protest on September 28 on her social media channels.
Six transgender women were killed in Puerto Rico that year. Last week, local authorities reported that a 33-year-old transgender woman, Nicole López, was hospitalized after she was stabbed and beaten.
"Being with our sisters heals us," Cifredo told ABC News. She said that every time there is a warning that another woman has been killed, she tries to gather with other women for consolation. "It is what heals our souls."
But of course finding safe ways to reunite with loved ones amid the pandemic has been a challenge.
The bigger salud had to completely reorganize its strategy and although they could adjust to remote services, Inoa Monegro said these were "stressful times" for many women.
"It was definitely not easy ... this idea that home is a safe place for women is a fallacy, it's not true," she said.
PHOTO: People led by the Feminist Collective activist group are protesting Governor Wanda Vazquez's call for a state of emergency in response to recent gender-based violence and women's disappearances in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2020. ( Ricardo Arduengo / AFP via Getty Images)
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As the number of COVID-19 cases increased in the mainland, Puerto Rico imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the country, including a curfew that is still in place.
"Being home around the clock or most of the day has severely affected their mental health and ability to deal with violence," said Inoa Monegro.
While the recent news has hit many of the island's residents, especially women, badly, both Inoa Monegro and Cifredo said nothing will stop them in the fight against violence against women.
"Our fight is for everyone. Our fight is for a better world full of justice, love and peace," said Cifredo.
Puerto Ricans are calling for a state of emergency amid rising violence against women, originally posted on abcnews.go.com

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