February 25, 2013

Maria Velasco was married to an abusive, controlling husband for more than 20 years before she realized she was a victim of domestic violence.

“Even though I was a retired teacher, I knew nothing about the problem of violence” against women and children in the home, she said.

Her experience is mirrored in a new report that reveals the extent of physical and sexual violence against women in Latin America and the way in which it affects children.

Now Velasco tries to help other women and their children from becoming domestic violence statistics.

“We’re just beginning to see this as a health problem,” said Velasco, now an outreach worker for the Chosica Diocese, on the east side of Lima, Peru, a city of nearly nine million people.

The Pan American Health Organization report, based on surveys from a dozen countries over the past decade, highlights the impact of domestic violence on women’s physical and mental well-being, as well as on their children.

More than half the women surveyed in Bolivia in 2003 said they had suffered physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

In 2008, 25 per cent said they had suffered such violence within the previous year.

Also in 2008, nearly 93 per cent of women in El Salvador said they had experienced both physical violence and emotional abuse within the previous 12 months.