Domestic Violence in Puerto Rico

“Nadie se mete entre problemas matrimoniales”

Dr. Vilma Caban, Advocacy Researcher

How many times have you heard a friend or family member advise that it is best not to get involved in marital problem between a man and his woman?  Unfortunately, for many battered women in the Puerto Rico, this hands-off approach is perpetuating the vicious cycle of domestic violence that is shrouded in silence and secrecy.


According to the Human Rights Watch organization (2015) “on average, 20,000 domestic violence incidents are reported every year in Puerto Rico, along with about 3,000 incidents of sexual violence.”Official sources predict that, in the case of sexual violence, only about 15 percent of rapes are reported (Puerto Rico Sun, 2012).  If the proportion is the same for domestic violence, approximately 130,000 women and girls are subjected to domestic violence every year, and 18,000 are raped, in a place with only 4 million people (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Statistics paint a bleak portrait of the plight of Puerto Rican women. Violence at the hands of their partners and families is a generational problem for a disproportionate number Puerto Rican women and young girls. Domestic violence exists for Puerto Rican women across all economic strata.

As this Latina researcher examined the ugly truth behind the reality of domestic violence in Puerto Rico, I was horrified to see how little is done to eradicate this brutal reality.  Regrettably, Puerto Rico is not alone in perpetuating this cycle of domestic violence. Just a few hundred miles away on its sister Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic, a study by the Association of Women’s Rights in Development confirmed that many women face this lonely battle and are often victimized twice, by their abusers and by the judicial system created to protect them. In 2011, data from the Prosecutor for Woman Affairs (Roxanna Reyes) confirms that every 1-2 days a woman is killed in an act of domestic violence. Within the last two years, over 60,000 annual complaints of violence against women are reported.  Advocacy organizations reported that tragically many of the victims that lost their lives in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were also victims of a legal system that did not have a responsive judicial staff equipped to deal with the complex issues of domestic violence.

In the 21st Century…how is this possible?


The ultimate goal of domestic violence or abuse is to gain and maintain control of the victim. Fear is the paralyzing grip that keeps many victims in an abusive relationship. Regrettably many people who hear about a particular example or tragic case can’t believe why the woman never broke free from the abusive situation.  As a community, noticing and acknowledging the critical and escalating signs of an abusive relationship can serve as the crucial step in breaking the cycle and silence of domestic violence. It is important to understand that there are many forms of domestic abuse or spousal abuse. Based on a survey developed by the United States National Domestic Violence Network, if you answer “Yes” to many of the questions below, it is highly probable that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship. Do you…

  • Often feel afraid of your partner?
  • Avoid certain conversations or topics for fear of making your partner angry?
  • Often feel that according to your partner you can’t do anything correct?
  • Agree that sometimes you deserve to be mistreated by your partner?
  • Wonder if you are the only one who is crazy in your relationship.
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless in your circumstances?

Many of the aforementioned questions focus on the issue of emotional abuse. Many victims feel isolated, intimidated, and controlled by their spouse/partner. It is important for victims of domestic abuse to understand that ultimately the abuser will escalate in his abusive tactics and ultimately resort to physical threats or other abusive repercussions to make the abused woman do what he wants.

National Center for Domestic and Sexual Abuse


A domestic violence abuser behaves in a controlling manner, not because he is not able to “control” himself.  In fact, the abuser is very strategic about his actions and makes very clear and controlling decisions in order to control his spouse or partner. He makes careful choices about when and where he will abuse his partner.  In public, they may seem like the perfect spouse, but often times will lash out when they can’t be seen. Moreover, an abuser is capable of “stopping” their abusive ways when it benefits him. If you suspect that someone you know is an abuser, answer the following questions. Does your partner…

  • Consistently ignore your opinions and puts them down?
  • Humiliate or yell at you?
  • Treat you so poorly that you are embarrassed that your family and friends will see?
  • Blame you for making them behave in an abusive way?
  • Constantly criticize you and makes degrading remarks about you?
  • Act very jealous and possessive?
  • Try to control where you go?
  • Try to control who you see?
  • Try to control what you do?
  • Keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • Limit your direct access to money?
  • Limit your access to a phone?
  • Constantly check up on you with numerous calls throughout the day?
  • Constantly check and/or open your mail?
  • Constantly check your email or wants you to give him your email passwords?
  • View you as his property or sexual object?
  • Have a bad or unpredicatable temper?
  • Harm you and threatens to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to kill himself if you leave him?
  • Threaten to take your children away if you try to leave?
  • Threaten to hurt your children if you try to leave?
  • Threaten to hurt other friends or family members if you try to leave?
  • Destroy your personal belongings?


The dynamics of domestic violence are very complicated and it helps to explain why victims struggle to break free from this violent pattern. Many women do not feel equipped or brave enough to examine potential options that can free them from the abuse.  They have become emotionally, physically, and spiritually weak.  Remember that the abuser has used a litany of vices to pin the victim and maintain her under his control.

Puerto Rican women are not alone.  The reality is that there are many Latina sisters who are suffering the same phenomena of domestic violence.  Amnesty International (2012) reported that in Latin America, there is a 20% increase in the number of women killed by their partners or former partners. The sad truth is that women are not the only victims.  When children witness the violent abuse of their mothers, there is a strong chance that they will either become victims or abusers in their adulthood. The cycle of domestic violence is more likely to continue.  It takes a brave and supportive community to say “NO MORE” and sustain empowerment that breaks the silence and the cycle. Thankfully, more organizations are addressing this issue and there is a growing network ready to serve the Latino community.  For more information about these organizations, visit the following websites:

Together, one step at a time, we can break the silence and the cycle that have kept so many women and children oppressed by their abusers.