On March 23rd, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court handed down a decision denying Carmen Romero Pérez protection under the Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention Law (Law 54–Ley 54) because her attacker was her lover and not the man to whom she was married.
In May of 2006, José Miguel Flores Flores intercepted Romero Pérez as she was driving, cut her off, took her keys, got into her car, and fought with and hit her. When she tried to get out of the car, he grabbed her arm, pulled her by the hair, and tried to choke her. Flores Flores was charged, and when his case went to court his lawyer argued that the relationship between the victim and the accused was not covered under Ley 54. An appellate court agreed, and after yesterday’s split decision in the Supreme Court, this ruling will be upheld.
The decision turns, in essence, on what counts as a “couple”. Ley 54 was passed with the clear intention of protecting people, especially women, from domestic violence, defined in the law as:
…the use of physical force or psychological violence, intimidation, or persecution against a person on the part of her/his spouse, ex-spouse, a person with whom s/he lives or has lived, with whom s/he has or has had a consensual relationship, or a person with who s/he has had a child… (8 L.P.R.A. sec. 602.)
The opinion establishing the exclusion includes this excerpt and interprets it to mean that the law “was limited to violence in the marital sphere or between couples or exes,” adding in a wild logical leap that the legislative intention was to “protect the integrity of the family and its members.” Romero Pérez was already married, so although she and Flores Flores had been seeing one another for nearly a year at the time of the attack, that relationship falls outside the familial context–they weren’t a “couple”–and is thus not covered. It’s cool though, the opinion says. This is covered under other laws.
Which not only completely misses the point, but opens the door to a dangerous kind of moralizing in which whether a woman is seen as deserving the protection of the State depends on whether or not we think she had it coming. In laying the groundwork for excluding other kinds of relationships from consideration, it also legitimizes traditional heterosexual relationships (more specifically, marriages) and sets up a situation in which it is actually dangerous to operate outside of that construct.
The judge writing the dissenting opinion says it well, so I’ll let her have the last word:
The practical effect of this exclusion is to privilege adulterous aggresors and give carte blanche to abuse, [under the pretext of] protecting the institution of the family… To resolve that the provisions [of the law] do not apply to a violent incident that occurs in a consensual relationship, solely because one of its members is married to another person, means ignoring the clear purpose of the Law and averting [our] eyes before the undeniable reality that machista violence, irrespective of the type of relationship in which it occurs, is costing dozens of lives each year and affecting thousands of people in this country.