In Puerto Rico, the murders of two innocent women have brought about protests as well as pleas for better government protection against gender violence. The events have sparked fear in many women, worried that they will be the next headline.
Andrea Ruiz, 35, filed a complaint against her ex-boyfriend whom she dated for 8 months, 40 year-old Miguel Ocasio, on the account of domestic violence intervention and prevention law. She was being constantly followed, harassed, and threatened, which caused her excessive physical and mental distress. However, despite sharing the cyclical emotional abuse and the affects it had on her, the judge ruled that she had no cause to arrest. One month following Ruiz’s court appearance, her burned body was found in a town on the side of the road. Her body was so unrecognizable that the forensics department had to use dental records to identify her. Ocasio confessed to his crimes and was arrested on multiple charges including first-degree murder and destruction of evidence. Only 3 days after the recovery of Ruiz’s body, another tragedy struck Puerto Rico. 27-year-old Keishla Rodríguez was found dead in the San José Lagoon. A criminal complaint states that she was murdered after telling Félix Verdejo, a boxer whom she was well acquainted with for most of her life, that she was pregnant. Then, allegedly, Verdejo injected “a syringe filled with substances purchased from a drug point” and along with an accomplice, tied her to a cinder block and threw her over a bridge into the body of water where she was found. Verdejo turned himself in, however, pleaded not guilty of carjacking, kidnapping resulting in death, killing an unborn child, and using a firearm during a violent crime in court along with his accomplice. Until their trials, they are to be held without bail.
Following months of protest from the feminist community as well as demands from organizations against gender-based violence, the governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, signed an executive order in January that declared a state of emergency caused by a drastic increase in gender violence cases. Last year, around 60 women were killed last year. Observatorio de Equidad de Género, a civil rights organization, marked this as a 62% increase in femicides than recorded in the previous year. However, the news only gets sourer, as as as many as 7 femicides were reported in April alone, tallying up to a shocking 21 cases since the year began. While the voices of the community have been heard and steps are being made to protect Puerto Rico’s women, Irma Lugo of the Observatorio de Equidad de Género stresses that “We still have so much left to do.”