By Firuzeh Shokooh Valle
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Puerto Rico's pioneering 1989 law against domestic violence is clouded by the U.S. territory's leadership in intimate-partner killings found in a recent survey. Critics say government budget cutbacks are making matters worse.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (WOMENSENEWS)--Despite its groundbreaking 1989 law against domestic violence, Puerto Rico suffers one of the world's worst rates of intimate-partner violence.
Advocates blame the situation on inadequate funding for women's rights policies and weak political support for implementing the law. They direct particular criticism at the Office of the Women's Advocate, formed in 2001 to establish public policies with a gender perspective.
Nahomi Galindo, a board member of Puerto Rico para Tod@s, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, charges the Office of the Women's Advocate with complacency.
Verónica Rivera Torres, vice president of the Women's Commission of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico in San Juan, said that the Women's Advocate should fight for the funds that were cut under a major tightening budget in 2009.
The nongovernmental organizations "are the only hope right now, the shelters, the ones that offer financial services," Rivera Torres said. "But they are also in crisis because the Office of the Women's Advocate has had to cut its budget and therefore cannot distribute funds to these organizations."
Yvonne Feliciano, the head of the Office of the Women's Advocate, was not available for comment. A deputy, Jacqueline Padilla Muñoz, who has worked in that agency for eight years, said massive budget cuts in March 2009 reduced the staff to 34; in September 2009 is was 56. The annual budget is now $6,769,000, down from $8,041,000 in 2009.
But an international survey that compared women's lives on the island, a U.S. territory, to other nations indicates that more services, not cuts, are needed. It concluded that a Puerto Rican woman is more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than women in 35 of the countries surveyed in 2006. The report was published this year by the Reina Sofía Center, an international research center on violence located in Valencia, Spain.
The survey found an improving trend, with the prevalence of women killed by an intimate partner in Puerto Rico down by over 12 percent between 2000 and 2006.
The trend may be going in the opposite direction this year, however. In August 2010 the annual death toll was already 15, close to the total of 17 in 2009. Six women were murdered in the month of June alone.
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