New Investigation Sheds Light on Puerto Rican Courts’ Role in Island’s Gender-based Violence Epidemic

Gender Violence in Puerto Rico BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of CNN.

Andrea Ruiz was one of 81 women victims of femicides in Puerto Rico since last year, according to figures from the civil rights coalition Observatorio de Equidad de Género.

“That is a number greater than countries that have 20 times our population. So, of course, we have to do more,” Maite Oronoz, the presiding judge of Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court, said Thursday in Spanish at a news conference announcing a new investigation’s preliminary findings.

The task force that conducted the investigation was charged with reviewing the “judicial, administrative and operational processes related to cases of gender-based violence.” The Supreme Court created the task force in May after seven femicides in April made it the deadliest month for women so far this year, according to NBC Latino.

The investigation exposed how, during a virtual hearing in March before a judge in Puerto Rico, Andrea Ruiz testified about her ex-boyfriend’s pattern of emotional abuse and persecution, detailing how the man stalked her, harassed her, and threatened to post intimate photos of her on social media.

As described by NBC Latino, during the hearing, the frightened 35-year-old woman filed a complaint against Miguel Ocasio, 40, under Puerto Rico’s Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Act, seeking the man’s arrest after the courts denied her request for a restraining order against him.

At the time, the judge said she found “no cause” to detain Ocasio. A month later, police said Ocasio confessed to killing Ruiz after his burned body was found on the shoulder of a highway on April 28. Ocasio died by suicide in jail this month after being charged with first-degree murder and destruction of evidence.

“People are not going to the courts for help,” Oronoz said, adding that further analysis is needed to determine if victims had sought help through the police, community groups, or elsewhere. “The response of the judiciary has to be much better.”

“If in Puerto Rico, women and men are dying from gender violence, we have a serious problem,” she added. “That is why the judiciary constantly evaluates itself … to do better.”

Part of the report focuses on analyzing seven femicides in which the courts were involved, including Ruiz’s case. Oronoz said that while the report does not explicitly identify the victims by name, one can “intuitively” recognize some of them based on how the cases’ circumstances are profiled in the report.

“The purpose of the report is not to look into how each judge managed each case, but to give us the tools to know which practices are not working,” Oronoz said.

With information from NBC Latino.