Bill would establish permanent surveillance protocol for gender violence cases

Rep. Lydia Méndez Silva (Photo by Pedro Correa Henry)

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Amid the rising concern over gender violence cases and their handling in Puerto Rico, Rep. Lydia Méndez Silva filed House Bill (HB) 717 on Wednesday to create the “Permanent Surveillance Against Gender Violence Act.”

Under the measure, any public or private entity that receives federal or state funds would be required to refer to the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and to the Family and Justice departments any indications of gender violence presented by any employee of, volunteer with or person who receives direct services from the entity.

“We are living in a very difficult time for the country and the cases from recent days, besides moving us completely, call us to take forceful actions to address this serious social problem, which increasingly destroys more women, families and the entire Puerto Rican society,” Méndez Silva said in a press release. “For this reason, I have introduced this legislation as part of the multiple actions that, along with the Women’s Caucus and our Speaker, this House will be carrying out to work on an agenda against violence against women.”

HB 717 also highlights that, according to data from the Puerto Rico Police, nearly 6,603 cases of domestic violence were reported on the island in 2020, and so far this year nearly 1,715 incidents of domestic violence have been reported.

The Popular Democratic Party lawmaker, who is also the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said that although Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia declared a gender violence emergency back in January and there are countless laws that criminalize such behavior, “cases are not decreasing.”

“More and more women are dying at the hands of their partners, and like them, many more face the cycle of violence by those they trust on a daily basis,” Méndez Silva said. “It is time to start implementing a public policy that is far from punitive and focused on education, identification and early intervention to prevent the highest number of deaths due to gender violence.”

The legislator said that one way to identify cases “is through the institutions that provide some type of essential service, since it is in these places where, on many occasions, people who are victims of mistreatment are recognized and in the face of the emergency that exists, we cannot continue with more social apathy.”

“It is necessary that every person with personal knowledge of a case of gender-based violence cooperates with the relevant institutions to identify victims of gender-based violence,” she said. “Identifying them in time helps the authorities to establish a preventive surveillance plan for the victim, to offer support programs for victims of gender violence, to know the aggressor and to act with the necessary urgency to prevent acts that we may have to regret.”

Méndez Silva said further that both public and private entities that offer essential services that are partially or totally subsidized with state and federal funds “have the obligation to design plans to identify possible cases of gender violence.”

“Among these plans should be to provide guidance on victim assistance programs and to establish a direct line of communication with law enforcement agencies,” she said, adding that willpower is required for the island to see that cases like the recent brutal slayings of Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz and Andrea Ruiz Costas are prevented.

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