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Federal domestic violence legislation championed during PC(USA) panel discussion

Event highlights need to eradicate gender-based violence in Puerto Rico

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Michelle Muñiz-Vega (top left), Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Presbiterio de San Juan (Presbytery of San Juan) in Puerto Rico, helped to keep the conversation flowing during a panel discussion on violence against women. She was joined by the Rev. Dr. Marielis Barreto (top right), pastor of Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Aguada (First Presbyterian Church in Aguada, Puerto Rico), and Amárilis Pagán Jiménez (bottom), executive director of Proyecto Matria, a community, feminist and human rights organization. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — This week, the Washington office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stressed the need to reauthorize federal domestic violence legislation during a panel discussion about how to eradicate gender-based violence, violence against women and domestic violence in Puerto Rico.

The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act “is critical legislation that has put into place programs and activities that seek to prevent and respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking,” said Christian Brooks, who is the Representative for Domestic Issues in the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness (OPW).

Reauthorization is needed “so the programs that it has created continue to be funded,” Brooks said.

“This particular reauthorization did pass the House of Representatives in March,” she said. “However, it has not been introduced into the Senate yet, so what we need to do is to call your senators and tell them to pass the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2021.”

Christian Brooks is the Representative for Domestic Issues in the Office of Public Witness.

Brooks’ comments came during a panel discussion featuring the Rev. Dr. Marielis Barreto, pastor of Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana en Aguada (First Presbyterian Church in Aguada, Puerto Rico), and Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, executive director of Proyecto Matria, a community, feminist and human rights organization.

Michelle Muñiz-Vega, Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Presbiterio de San Juan (Presbytery of San Juan) in Puerto Rico, helped to keep the conversation flowing, along with Brooks, who talked about how common domestic violence is around the globe.

“According to the World Health Organization, one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner,” she said. “In the United States, one in four women experienced physical or sexual violence by intimate partners. And additionally, 55% of female homicides in the United States are committed by an intimate partner. And those numbers are only higher on the island of Puerto Rico. And we know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, women have had increased exposure to abusive partners.”

The flag of Puerto Rico. (Photo by Ana Toledo via Unsplash)

The panel was one of several educational events that have been held recently on Puerto Rico’s domestic violence crisis, which includes a rash of femicides, as part of an awareness effort by a group of denominational leaders across the continental United States and Puerto Rico.

Wednesday’s panel was put on by OPW and Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. The quotes from Pagán Jiménez and Barreto are through translators.

Pagán Jiménez, a human rights advocate and lawyer, said a number of factors have contributed to the increase in violence against women in Puerto Rico, including toxic masculine attitudes and austerity measures that have become more prevalent and intensified the problem. However, efforts are underway to help find solutions to the violence, which women’s organizations have been decrying for years.

A committee was recently appointed by the government, Pagán Jiménez said, “so we are talking about the work that needs to be done in our country at this time. … To prevent domestic violence requires a community effort, a community educational effort, a social effort and a state effort to create a legal framework that can prevent these cases.”

Obstacles include conservative elements of society that have been vocal in opposing domestic violence prevention efforts, Pagán Jiménez said.

“The issue is that we’re working within a system that you could say is a patriarchal system, a masculine system,” she said.

Barreto called on people of faith to rise up and show their solidarity with those who are being victimized.

As a woman and a pastor, “I believe that the church needs to pay attention and not close our eyes to the reality that we’re seeing, and not just on Sundays,” she said. “We can’t simply go to hear a sermon and not do anything else.”

The call for solidarity extends beyond a single denomination. “The entire Church, not just the Presbyterian Church, but all churches and all people of faith need to be more receptive and more attentive to people who are suffering from domestic violence,” Barreto said. “We need to be more inclusive; they need to feel that they belong.”

It’s also important to form alliances, Pagán Jiménez said, including organizations with supportive males. “If we love our neighbor, if we understand solidarity, and if we are going to love one another, we have to work in alliances.”

To read an Action Alert from OPW on the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2021, go here. To hear the panel discussion (mostly in Spanish), go here.

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


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