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Fighting Families: Family Characteristics Associated with Domestic Violence in Five Latin American Countries

By Dallan Flake and Renata Forste

This research looks at how family characteristics affect the likelihood of experiencing domestic violence in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Peru and whether Western theories of domestic violence can be applied to individuals in Latin American countries.

  • Researchers investigated whether domestic violence in Western and Latin American countries differ because of:
    • Marital Status: cohabitation (living together but not married) rates are higher in Latin America than in Western countries, and couples that cohabitate rather than marry are at greater risk of violence
    • Family Size: the average family size of Latinos is larger, and larger families are associated with more violence.
    • Partner Alcohol Use: problem drinking is relatively high among Latinos, and drinking is associated with higher rates of violence.
    • Socioeconomic Status: Latin American countries have high rates of poverty, which has been found to be related to increased rates of violence.
    • Decision-making power: with rigid gender roles, female decision making power in Latino families may heighten the risk of violence.
    • Educational Alikeness: differences in the couple’s level of education is associated with violence, and strict gender roles in Latin American countries may increase this risk

  • The study participants were 6,082 women from Colombia, 588 from the Dominican Republic, 2,275 from Haiti, 6,728 from Nicaragua, and 15,174 from Peru.

  • The study found differences across the countries on all of the characteristics researchers studied. Some examples include:
    • The rate of domestic violence ranged from 16% in Haiti to 39% in Peru
    • In Colombia, Nicaragua, and Peru, approximately 50% of women cohabit with partners; in the Dominican Republic, approximately 66% do so.
    • Couples in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua are more likely to make decisions together while the power is divided in Haiti and dominated by women in Peru
    • In Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, 33% of women in relationships have more education than their partners
  • Overall, if a woman cohabits, has a large family, has a partner who gets drunk, does not share equally the decision-making responsibilities with her partner, or does not have the same level of education as her partner, she is at a greater risk of experiencing domestic violence.

  • The findings suggest that many of the indicators of domestic violence used in Western countries also apply to women in Latin American countries.

Flake, D., & Forste, R. (2006). “Fighting Families: Family Characteristics Associated with Domestic Violence in Five Latin American Countries.” Journal of Family Violence, 21 (1), 19-29.

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The National
Domestic Violence Hotline:

1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

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©2007. National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence.
All Rights Reserved. Last updated 12/13/07.