M received a protective order against her emotionally and physically abusive partner. But Puerto Rican police didn’t enforce it. Photos: Erika P. Rodriguez

In Puerto Rico, an Epidemic of Domestic Violence Hides in Plain Sight

After Hurricane Maria, the number of women killed by their partners doubled. Survivors say the government’s misguided response has put more lives in danger.

Andrea González-Ramírez
Published in
29 min readJun 30, 2020

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This feature was reported in partnership with Type Investigations, where the author is an Ida B. Wells Fellow. A Spanish-language version is available here.

The night before Suliani Calderón Nieves was murdered, she drove to her mother’s house in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, to drop off her two kids. The 38-year-old health care worker had begun rediscovering her freedom after a contentious divorce and was headed to an event in town, where she was going to read a poem she had written. As she was leaving the house, her mother, Sonia Nieves, took a moment to admire her daughter’s long black hair, signature red lipstick, and bright smile. “You look very beautiful today,” her mother said. “Yo sé que estoy bien buena,” Suliani cheekily responded. “I know I’m hot.”

When Suliani returned to pick up her kids on the evening of May 17, 2018, the lightness was gone. Her ex-husband, José Vega Nieves, had shown up unannounced at the end of the reading, one of the many times he would harass her following the end of their tumultuous 16-year relationship. Angry, Suliani fought with him over WhatsApp messages, but her mom encouraged her to drop it. In the heated exchange, Suliani threatened to call the police on him.

That night, after she returned to her home with her children, Suliani logged into Facebook and posted another poem. “La vida te golpea… Life hits you, you think you learn the lesson and it hits you again. When the river of misery leaves its channel, it never returns to its current. The stones are painful episodes, more if you get used to their stumbling, you will only allow more sorrows. No one owns our life, and I just want to live it.”

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Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning Puerto Rican journalist. Senior Writer at New York Magazine’s The Cut. Formerly GEN, Refinery29, and more. Read my work: https://www.thecut.com/