By: Keysalis J. Fermín Pacheco
The panelists Dr. Luis Nieves Rosa, professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, Prof. Luisa Seijo Maldonado, director of Siempre Vivas Project, and Dr. Vannesa Díaz Collazo, attorney at law and criminal justice professor, offered a press conference on the topic of domestic violence on Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014 at UPRM. The conference focused on topics about the victims of DV, the 54 law and its latest amendments and how Puerto Ricans should work together to change the way we look at gender roles in our society.
The press conference started off by asking the three panelists to define domestic violence. Díaz said, “Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior which in most cases includes different types of abuse from one person against another.” Panelists were also asked to define the 54 law “It’s the law that has been approved in 1989 in Puerto Rico for the protection of domestic violence victims.” said Díaz.
Dr. Nieves on the other hand, discussed his research on gay men and characteristics that are unique to domestic violence among them. He started working with this topic back in 1989, about the same time the law was first approved. He served as a counselor in a program for gay men in New York providing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention. “What I encountered in my practice was that there was a lot of high risk behavior between same sex couples. Based on was I was identifying as domestic violence that escalated into sexual rape,” said Nieves.
In an article published in the book Al Margen del género: la violencia domestica en parejas del mismo sexo, Dr. Nieves says that in Puerto Rico there are no shelters that accommodate victims of domestic violence in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual community. When asked if this has changed since the article was published in 2006 he said, “we still don’t have programs tailored to work with same sex couples specifically but the ones that exist are getting trained to identify who is the victim and who is the batterer.”
Dr. Nieves also spoke about the invisibility of domestic violence issues in same sex couples in Puerto Rico due to the fact that the approval of the amendment of the 54 law to include same sex couples has not been disseminated. An article titled Ejercen los Gays la Ampliación de sus Derechos published by El Nuevo Día, states that, “In May 2013 the government of Puerto Rico approved law 22, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That same year the Puerto Rican government amended the 54 law to extend its protection against domestic violence to gay couples regardless of marital status.”
The article titled Domestic Violence in the LGBT Community in the Center for American Progress website indicates that, “same sex couples may lack the resources needed to help them come out of abusive relationships. Such services for gay men are practically nonexistent.”
When asked about special characteristics among same sex couples violence, Dr. Nieves said, “There’s not much difference in the violence they inflict. It can be verbal, sexual or physical just like any heterosexual couple.”
Díaz was asked to give recommendations to lower the statistics of domestic violence in Puerto Rico. She argued that citizens need to be educated. “I think we need to educate our people so they can know their rights and they can know how to defend themselves.”
At the end of the press conference Seijo was asked how many victims have become survivors in her Siempre Vivas project at UPRM. She said they’ve helped 2,037 participants and only one of them was killed by her aggressor. Seijo has a very emotional reason to work with female victims of domestic violence. One her colleagues got killed by her husband along with their two kids, her mother and a friend that was at their house in the moment. Since then she hasn’t stopped working for the safety of Puerto Rican women.
“We live in a patriarchal society in which the man is seen as superior. We have to change our minds and attitude to work together to make other people understand that we need change our perspective as a community,” concluded Seijo.