Helping Puerto Rico and thinking through gender-based violence during natural disasters

Written By: Olivia Garcia, Ph.D., María Cristina Pacheco Alcalá, M.Psy. and Paula Gomez Stordy, M.Ed., Esperanza United

Over the last few weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced numerous earthquakes that have disrupted daily life, to say the least. The earthquakes caused structural damage to buildings, causing people to go without electricity for a few days and for some individuals to seek shelter outside of their communities. These earthquakes have compounded the still present devastation and trauma from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.

For Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza), this has brought up concerns and discussions about how natural disasters impact safety, specially, survivors of gender-based violence while anxiety and stress levels are high. Data indicates that women become especially vulnerable to sexual and domestic violence in the chaos and social breakdown that follows a disaster (Chew and Ramdas, 2005; Henrici, 2010; First, First and Houston 2017). Isolation, coercion, shame, and institutional barriers often make it difficult for survivors to seek support and this is compounded by the impact of a natural disaster.

Below is a list of resources detailing the many ways we can support gender-based violence survivors in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

How to prepare to help survivors of gender-based violence impacted by natural disasters

We, at Esperanza United, stand in solidarity with Puerto Rico and call upon our network and allies to provide support.  At times we may feel powerless about the overwhelming trauma experienced by individuals and may feel confused about how to make a difference and help. Fortunately, there are many individuals who have organized to bring support, resources, and healing to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of these disasters.  Below is list of organizations who are supporting grassroots organizations in  providing crisis intervention and stabilization services to the island and specially survivors of gender-based violence.

Organizations in Puerto Rico that are providing on-the-ground support:

  •– María Fund became a bridge of hope, love and resistance after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 and is moving resources to support grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the most recent earthquake. Their mission is supporting the strengthening of a powerful and aligned ecosystem of social leaders, organizations and initiatives that are building community power in Puerto Rico.

  •– HASER’s is based in Puerto Rico and its mission is to stimulate quality and equity of life by supporting grassroots actions in the Caribbean. In the aftermath of the earthquakes they’re purchasing supplies to local vendor to support the economy and provide relief to the most affected.

    • Brigada Solidaria del Este – is a grassroot organization that is coordinating services and donations. They are making special efforts to support people in the mountains and in distant communities affected by the earthquakes.

    • Junte Gente – This is a grassroots organization that brings together other nonprofit groups. Their working question is what can we do together that we cannot do alone?

    • Coordinadora Paz para las Mujeres – Puerto Rico Dual Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition For earthquake donations, please include “Donation South” in the comments section. They are providing supporting by coordinating direct services for survivors of gender-based violence, delivering supplies, coordinating donations with larger entities and doing the “Caravana Violeta”.

Also, this recent article below provides additional information and links to other organizations that are also helping with relief efforts on the ground, particularly to vulnerable populations within Puerto Rico.

It is time such as these when we need our community and allies more than ever. During the aftermath of the earthquakes, we too witness the humanity and compassion of people across the country and beyond who have organized efforts to enhance the safety and healing to the people of Puerto Rico. It is efforts such as these that strengthens our hope and resilience.