By: Valerie Padilla Toro
Mayagüez, PR– On October 15, 2014, a group of three panelists partook in a domestic violence press conference in the Carlos E. Chardón Building at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM). The panelists discussed domestic violence between heterosexual and homosexual couples, different alternatives a domestic violence victim has, and how society’s bias affect each potential victim. The panelists were Professor Luis Nieves, Professor Luisa Seijo, and Attorney at Law Vanessa Díaz.
Professor Nieves, director of the Applied Social Investigation Center (CISA), teaches social sciences at UPRM. He is also a researcher in topics related to domestic violence among same sex couples. Professor Seijo, director of the “Siempre Vivas” Program, lectures social sciences at UPRM. Díaz is a UPRM graduate and has a Juris Doctor from the Interamerican University School of Law. She exercises both civil and criminal law.
Recent Domestic Violence Cases
In the past ten months there have 15 femicides in Puerto Rico. These murders involve women who were victims of domestic violence. Professor Seijo said, “We live in a patriarchal society in which the man is seen as superior and until we decide to work against it the domestic violence in Puerto Rico are not going to end.”
Although not commonly reported men are also domestic violence victims. According to a news story published by El Nuevo Día, on September 13, 2014 a male police officer was stabbed by his female sexual partner. This case shows that domestic violence cases were women is the abuser are common, but they are almost never reported. Why is this happening? According to the panelists, most men decide to not report the incident because they feel ashamed or afraid of being laughed at. This is caused by society’s bias, that in every case of domestic violence the male is supposed to be the abuser.
Who Could Be a Victim
Professor Seijo claims that “anyone can be a victim, because as a society we are taught to use stereotypes”. Stereotypes are what society has decided that each gender is supposed to do. Men are supposed to play with toys that embrace their masculinity. Women are supposed to play with dolls and kitchen utensils. The three panelists agreed that because of these stereotypes most cases are not being reported and most people are waving their rights.
Domestic Violence in the LGBTT Community
Domestic violence among same sex couples is also common. Professor Luis Nieves said, “Domestic violence among same sex couples is as common but there is no way to know how many cases are annually.” The main reason why there is a lack of report is because there is a lack of education in society.
The Law and the Authorities
Lay 54 is to prevent domestic violence and protect its victims. Recently it was amended to include same sex couples. Attorney at Law, Vanessa Diaz said, “it will require time and education to improve the effectiveness of the law, and people need to know their rights and how to defend themselves.” The law is effective for those who have studied it, but those who haven’t are not aware the protections they may be offered if they’re a domestic violence victim.
When the police receives a call of a potential domestic violence victim, their first response is to go to the potential victim’s house and investigate the situation. Both Diaz and Nieves claim that it is important that the police investigates and interviews both the potential victim and the potential abuser. There have been cases were the women is the abuser, and she calls the police to tell them she is being abused.
Another case that professor Nieves narrated to the press conference attendees was about a lesbian couple. One woman called the police and when they arrived to the house found two women. Because of the bias people have established in the past, the police officers arrested the women that appeared more masculine. After the investigation, they determined that the abuser was the more feminine-looking one. This case breaks all stereotypes and that is why professor Nieves said that the first thing a social worker or a police officer has to do is get rid of all their biases in order to determine who the abuser is and who is the victim.
There are programs all around Puerto Rico that help domestic violence victims. “Siempre Vivas” Program is located in the UPRM campus. It helps women, men, and children. The program helps domestic violence victims while they are in the process of leaving the abuser and after. Also, the UPRM has a protocol established to deal with students that are domestic violence victims. Professor Seijo said that when a student is abused and the abuser is part of the UPRM community there are measures that need to be taken and that the campus is prepared to deal with them.
According to an article published by El Vocero, on October 15, the Women’s Defense Office (OPM for its Spanish acronym), received $288 thousand from federal funds to hire more social workers in order to help more victims. These social workers are going to be trained especially to be able to determine who the abuser is and who the victim is. They are also going to be trained so they are going to be able to leave behind their established biases and stereotypes.