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.

Suliani Calderón Nieves. Her mother, Sonia, removed images of her daughter from her living space after Suliani’s death in 2018, and only brought out this photograph on request.

It can be hard for victims to get help in a “machista” place like Puerto Rico, where right-wing lawmakers and religious groups have outsized influence.

Sonia Nieves at her home in Bayamón. Nieves has become vocal about the Puerto Rican government’s failure to address domestic violence in after losing her oldest daughter in 2018.

Police are often unable to recognize the signs of intimate partner violence and regularly mishandle complaints.

Johanna Pinette, associate attorney for the ACLU in Puerto Rico. In 2012, the ACLU published a report detailing how the Puerto Rico Police Department failed to protect victims of domestic violence and investigate related crimes.

“The law exists. But if the people meant to execute it are not capacitated, have no sensibility, and don’t see this issue as a priority, nothing will happen.”

After M, 23, called 911 on her abusive partner, the police claimed she didn’t mention the incident was related to domestic violence. Instead, it was mislabeled as a home dispute.
Zoan Davila is a lawyer and member of the Colectiva Feminista en Construccion, a feminist political project founded in 2014.

M told the officers her ex had violated the protective order over and over again — calling her using blocked numbers, texting her using temporary numbers. The officers told her nothing could be done.

Vilma Gonzalez is the executive director of the women’s rights collective Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer.

Witnessing Suliani’s murder distinguishes Lersy Boria from other government officials; she’s seen the consequences of intimate partner violence up close.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store