DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONFERENCE (El Sonador, Dominican Republic) 

Promoting Economic Empowerment for Battered Women

Conference Leaders: Victor Manuel Batista & Albert PenaIMG_0613

The moment of truth and validation for this cause arrived! A team of community leaders, faith leaders, congressional representatives, and legislative leaders rallied around this cause in El Sonador. On the final day of Dr. Caban-Vazquez’s research visit, and after completing community outreach to approximately 800 women within the region, she was ready to share her motivational speech to the women of “El Sonador”.




It was the most humbling and proudest moment as a researcher. She was able to witness another historic milestone for this community.  The silence was broken! The community stakeholders were there to lend a helping hand!

After Dr. Caban-Vazquez shared her personal journey, and research findings, she was touched to have another strong and highly admired Latina address the women in that local village. Dra. Maria M. Fernandez, Diputada de la provincia Monsenor Nouel, PRSC-Congresa Nacional, serves as a deputy member of the legislative body know as the ‘Camara de Diputados’.

CONGRESO NACIONALDra Maria Fernandez-Cruz
Dra. Maria Fernandez
Diputa Prov. Monsenor Nouel, PRSC
Presidenta Comision Permanente de Seguridad Social
Her endorsement of Dr. Caban-Vazquez’s message was invaluable.  It was uplifting to hear her motivational words of wisdom. As a physician, community member, advocate, and national legislative member, it was affirming to hear Dra. Maria Fernandez’s message of encouragement and hope for these women.  Her humble and dynamic style was extremely heartwarming. Dr. Caban-Vazquez was honored to hear her speak and be in her presence.


Another great honor for Dr. Caban-Vazquez was to meet Arquimedes Reyes Taveras, Esq.  As a highly respected and dedicated advocate for women’s rights, his commitment to this cause was demonstrated not only by his participation in this community forum, but also in the countless rallies and community events that he supports to empower the women of this region.  It was a great honor to hear him speak on this issue. 


Grupo Juridicio Universal, Dominican Republic
Arquimedes Reyes Taveras, Esq.
Grupo Juridicio Universal, Dominican Republic



Ending the Silence: Domestic Violence in the Dominican Republic

Correspondent: Steve Uhlmann / Produced & edited by Tim Tripp

Violence against females in the Dominican Republic has been high over time, with 1-in-3 women regularly facing domestic abuse according to the U.N. The D.R. and the rest of Latin America have consistently seen higher domestic abuse rates compared to the rest of the world, and there is not an explanation as to why this happens.
Doctor Vilma Caban-Vazquez, an executive board member of the non-governmental organization Social Changes without Borders, Inc., asked herself the question of why it is happening so much in this region.
Her mother, a native of the region, was routinely abused, but it was not until she was on her death bed that she finally opened up to Vilma about the abuse she endured. “I just felt like there were moments where we weren’t allowed to talk about it,” Caban-Vazquez said. “But in those final moments, my mom spoke freely, candidly about her struggles, and I just promised her that I would go on to use her story to be able to help other women break the silence early and break the cycle.” After realizing there were may stories similar to her mother’s out there, Caban-Vazquez then put it upon herself to study the women of the Dominican Republic to better understand the issue of domestic violence.
In her travels around the country and talking victims, she found some theories about why domestic violence is much more common in the Dominican Republic than in other countries. It turns out that a combination of things provides conditions for this type of behavior to thrive. “It’s the fear of disconnection and fear of being alone. That has actually so much power,” Caban-Vazquez said. “The woman feels unworthy. There’s this whole ‘I’m not enough’ contrast that is very powerful.”
Another issue she found was that the poor economic conditions found in the Dominican Republic put couples under pressure. This pressure leads to alcoholism, depression and abusive men taking out their frustrations on women.
 “The primary breadwinner isn’t able to meet the demands of taking care of family, and so that sadly creates a whole other cycle,” she said. “Men are just trying to cope and numb the feelings of inadequacy.”
The biggest reason for all of this, according to Caban-Vazquez, is a cultural one. Domestic abuse is something that is passed down in many Dominican households, as children routinely witness it and learn to live with it. “There are these mindsets that are passed down from generation to generation, and you get caught up in this cycle,” she said. “They see this aggressive behavior and the high rates around them and it really just feels like a normal part of life to many.”
One of the biggest challenges for Caban-Vazquez during her study was getting Dominican women to open up. Her first study that involved one-on-one interviews and focus groups drew just 80 women. She then knew what kind of obstacle she was going against. “We were dealing with a vulnerable population,” she said. “The status-quo is to just ignore it, they are taught to hide their feelings on it. Once we made them comfortable enough, we got them to open up and made progress.”
Education is Key to Stopping Domestic Violence
One of the biggest battles for those wishing to help victims is the lack of domestic violence education in the country. It was not until 1997 that a law preventing domestic violence was ratified, and even now there are many women who are unaware that being abused is illegal. The Dominican government continues to make strides to make it easy for those who are being abused to report it. Records show that in the past year 7,114 complaints had been filed to the government-run Violence Prevention and Attention Unit. While that is a high number, but many women still fail to report cases to the organization.
Many non-governmental organizations have also stepped in to make sure that citizens know their rights and how to prevent domestic violence from happening. The biggest organization is PROFAMILIA, a reproductive and sexual health organization run by International Planned Parenthood, is a huge player in domestic violence education in the Dominican Republic. They run campaigns and education clinics throughout the country, and they are pleased with the progress they have made.
 The word is spreading, and Caban-Vazquez noticed during the second year of her study of victims in the Dominican Republic. Participation exploded from under 100 to over 800. This gives her hope that the culture may be changing.
“They are coming out, and in the audiences there were even men,” she said. “I think that when people feel that their situation is going to be handled with care, people will open up.”

Promoting Economic Empowerment for Battered Women

Lead Researcher ~ Dr. Vilma Caban-Vazquez, Ed.D

Art by Tanya Torres
Art by Tanya Torres



Together one step at a time, we can break the silence and the cycle that have kept so many women and children oppressed by their abusers. With the generous support that Dr. Caban-Vazquez and her research delegates received, they were able to set a course for a second year of research and technical support.

IMG_0454This lead researcher and her team traveled back and worked with a core group of the battered Latinas in Bonao. Using a secure lottery system, 10 out of the 50 women studied became part of an economic empowerment project that will serve as a pilot for the 2013/2014 study.  With this plan, they will be able to directly help 10 of the 2012 research participants. These women will become part of a Self Help Group (SHG) that will create a School Uniform Cooperative (Davies, 2001). This economic empowerment project will enable and equip the domestic violence survivors to sew and sell school uniforms in and outside of their small town of Bonao, DR.

This technical support is a direct result of the key findings shared by the victims of the study. The goal for offering this empowering self help group model is to ultimately release the women from the oppressive and economic hold of their abusive husbands or domestic partners (Allen, 2004; Rios, 2007).
 Research findings from the 2012 study showed that many of the women selflessly remained with their abusers to better improve their children’s odds of remaining in school. Since the men were the sole decision-maker in managing finance, the women feared that they would struggle to purchase the costly school uniforms without any career training or employment options.

In the summer of 2013, our direct technical and economic support drastically empowered many brave women to take hold of their destiny and develop a school uniform micro-enterprise. As a result, they gained the economic leverage they needed to provide their children, and ultimately their community, with a vital educational resource and opportunity.


Research-proven methods on effective practices and training informed the direction of this rural community-based project (Perkins, 2006; UN, 2001). The women received certified training from a team of seamstresses in the field. Furthermore, they received support from local merchants to sell and promote the women’s school uniforms. The lead researcher’s vision of expanding this initiative can be supported by proceeds from additional fundraising events. This may offer the women an opportunity to establish an apprentice program wherein the study participants will “reach one…and teach one”.

IMG_0515Dr. Caban-Vazquez recognizes the great potential of replicating this form of empowerment work across many Latino rural communities. The findings from 2013/2014 economic empowerment pilot will help to establish field-tested and proven  strategies for developing sustainable community outreach.


In August of 2013, our community outreach efforts reached approximately 800 women across different hamlets in the Province of Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic.  It was an honor to be greeted by hundreds of women as they sought advice on dealing with the epidemic of domestic violence in their communities.


The lead researcher would like to thank the talented Latina artist Tanya Torres for her artistic contribution. Tanya Torres has extended permission for Dr. Caban-Vazquez to use her inspirational and cultural iconic figure—Cacibayagua: Taina Goddess— in any promotional literature and research reports sharing the worked centered on The Latina Domestic Violence Research Project.

IMG_0509In August 2013, when the research team travels back to Bonao, Dr. Caban-Vazquez will deliver a special inspirational gift especially designed to inspire the 10 domestic violence victims (Appendix D) Mrs. Torres lovingly hand–crafted unique wearable art necklaces with the inspirational image of Cacibayagua— the mythical Taina Goddess. Traditional Dominican folklore describes how Cacibayagua is the original life source of the indigenous Taino Indians that emerged from her beautiful cave. The inspirational intention behind sharing this gift is to encourage the women.  In the face of adversity and their personal decision to renounce the economic stranglehold of their abusers, these empowered women can recall the legend of Cacibayagua.  The necklace signifies their promise and legacy as Latina women and descendants of the rich Taino culture.  It is a symbolic reminder to tap into the spiritual strength of their inner Taina goddess. This artistic gift serves as a beautiful and concrete reminder of their legacy and the promise of their destiny as “empowered” women and not “beaten” women.





Based on the data collection and analysis methods discussed above, Dr. Caban-Vazquez was able to identify several re-occurring themes from the interviews. These central themes can be grouped into the following categories of participants’ needs: (a) economic factors, (b) women empowerment, (c) Victims’ patterns (d) social-emotional factors, and (e) raising community awareness.


The majority of the battered women interviewed communicated their dire need for economic resources that would enable them to leave their abusive relationships. Many of the women expressed their desire to successfully seek and secure employment outside of Bonao. Upon further examination, employment opportunities are extremely limited in this rural community. Many women expressed that they choose to remain in their abusive relationship because they don’t want to disrupt their children’s education by moving away and not having any economic resources to ensure that their children attend school.  They selflessly chose to stay so that their children could at least have a better chance of attending school. The majority of the local men are the sole financial providers of the home. In light of the economic situation in their rural communities, if the battered women resolved to leave their abusive partners, these women would financially struggle to purchase the costly school uniforms that their children are required to have to attend school. Many of the women hoped that there would be some form of career training available to the women of Bonao that would open some economic options.


More than half of the research participants wish they had a women’s community center where they may attend more “chalas” or educational workshops. They believe that this community strategy would increase the awareness level about domestic violence in their community. Prior to Dr. Caban-Vazquez informational session about domestic violence laws with the participants, the majority of the battered women communicated in their interviews that they were not familiar with the Domestic Violence Law No. 24:97. Some women shared that if they knew where to go and get a legal advocate, they would feel more comfortable trying to leave their abusive partner.


A closer examination revealed that less than 25 percent of the participants interviewed in multiple research forums were actually able to break free from their abusive partner. Regrettably, half of the women that broke free from the abuser eventually returned to their abusive partner. In view of this shift, only 12 percent of the study participants were able to remain away from their former abusive partner. The researcher realized that she would need to probe further and plan future focus group interviews and one-to-one interviews to better understand the complex social forces that were shaping the womens’ choice to come back to an abusive relationship.


Focus group interviews (n=15) revealed that many of the women felt ashamed about their abusive situation. They expressed great difficulty about sharing their situation with other women in their community for fear of judgement.  Others expressed that they believe one of the reasons why the community is tolerate of domestic violence may be due to the believe of a “man needs to be a man”. Some women shared that some people have expressed that if the men don’t behave this way and put their women in their place,  then the women will get out of control.

Several older women shared their belief that the cycle of domestic violence in their community continues to flourish. They discretely noted several of the young women in the town who are dating or engaged to an abusive boyfriend.  These older battered women earnestly conveyed their concern for these young women. The vicious cycle of domestic violence was quite evident in this community.


Many of the women felt it was necessary to involve the men in the community awareness initiatives centered on domestic violence in Bonao. Some of the women suggested a faith-based counseling group for abusers with a local spiritual leader, pastor or priest. They expressed that it was part of the churches responsibility to address the issue of how the church congregants are also abusers of this wifes.


Based of the multiple themes that were revealed in this preliminary research study, this researcher considered potential areas for future study. This researcher recommends that future research should focus on the economic empowerment theme that was raised by the majority of the battered women. This form of future research may be helpful for other rural Latino communities that face this universal economic obstacle. Another area of future study can center on how various community stakeholders can raise community awareness on the issue of domestic violence (Johnson, 2003). The application of this future research can greatly affect social change within the Latino community. It can also inform government and social agency policy that is designed for the educational and economic empowerment of various communities.

“I  alone  cannot  change  the  world…                                                                                                    But I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”              ~Mother Teresa



When we empower a battered woman to break free from the cycle of domestic violence…we empower a community to break the silence and say NO MORE. 

THE SEED OF HOPE:                                                                                                                   Last year, Doctora Vazquez was on a mission to raise awareness against Domestic Violence. Vilma wanted to commemorate her brave mother Maria, who was a victim of domestic violence and lost her battle with colon cancer on April 2, 2012. Her strongest desire as an advocacy researcher was to plant seeds of hope and positive social change to stop domestic violence in the Latino community.



A great deal of coordination and international collaboration was necessary to make the following Latina domestic violence research study a reality. The lead advocacy researcher, Dr. Vilma Caban-Vazquez, would like to acknowledge all those whose support and contributions helped to launch a preliminary domestic violence research study in August of 2012. Subsequently, this practitioner-researcher is extremely grateful for all of the altruistic individuals whose perpetual support, via auxiliary resources and expanded community networks, abetted and nurtured her dream. With their support, Dr. Caban-Vazquez was able to develop a research-based action plan to offer more technical support to the battered women that she studied in August of 2012. 

First and foremost, the remarkable support of her faithful friend and fellow humanitarian Loida Pujols (former United Nations Consulate General to the Dominican Republic, 2000-2004) as well as Loida’s noble and supportive husband Albert Peña helped the lead researcher Dr. Caban-Vazquez achieve her dream of establishing an advocacy footprint in Latin America. Loida and Albert reached out to their network of close family and friends and rallied support for this humanitarian cause. Dr. Caban-Vazquez is extremely grateful for their community service and assistance.

OPENING DOORS FOR CHANGE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC                                                       TELEVISION & RADIO COVERAGE                                                                               Consequently, a close childhood friend of Mr. Peña, former Councilman Victor Manuel Bastista, played a pivotal and instrumental community role in serving both as a representative of this initiative in his small rural town of Bonao, as well as one of our strongest rallying supporters.  In solidarity and support to this domestic violence cause, community advocates Mr. Pena and Mr. Batista locked arms to serve as advocates and shared voices for community change by coordinating various domestic violence conferences in numerous faith-based and educational venues.  They were quite resourceful in their outreach and traveled across different towns and villages to network with various community stakeholders.  They submitted press releases to various regional news media.  As a result, news coverage about the domestic research project was shared with the Hortensia Magazine, which was based out of the capital of Santo Domingo. Furthermore, they reached out to the local television program “En Familia” and fortunately they gained a community news slot wherein they reported news of the upcoming events on Bonao Television, Channel 12 ( Their resourceful outreach efforts encouraged local women to attend the domestic violence conference as well as extended an invitation to consider being a part of the research study.  Thanks to their noble efforts, over 50 participants attended the domestic violence awareness conferences and educational workshops. Eventually, the editor of the Hortensia Magazine traveled from the capital Santo Domingo to observe the large group participant research discussions. As a way to demonstrate her support, she wrote a feature article about the lead researcher and the merit of this study and her efforts (Appendix A).

Using various informational platforms, Mr. Pena and Mr. Batista helped to raise community awareness about the prolific rate of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic.  Dr. Caban-Vazquez is immensely grateful for all of their outreach. She was inspired by their natural leadership abilities to tenaciously mobilize a much-needed service to their community. Their campaign action plan was to bring the issue of Domestic Violence to the forefront of Bonao’s community economic agenda.  This was an extremely viable outreach strategy. The ultimate goal of involving several philanthropic community agents, faith-based organizations, educational institutions, telecommunication organizations, as well as town and provincial legislative leaders would help pave the way. In due course, their proactive stance could help the victims of domestic violence by opening potential lines of future funding and community support.

MEETING WITH THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC SENATOR:                                                          In addition, the lead researcher particularly extends her greatest appreciation to Senator Amable of the Alta Gracia Province in the Dominican Republic. This distinguished public servant, welcomed the lead researcher and her research team’s arrival in the midst of his personal holiday. He received the delegates assigned to this research task with such genuine warmth, and enthusiasm. Senator Amable’s willingness to assist the team in any way possible to achieve a successful preliminary research study indicated his level of commitment to his battered constituents of Bonao, Dominican Republic.Slide24

With their joint and dynamic efforts, this compassionate international team of community advocates helped to bring the epidemic community issue of domestic violence to light.  Moreover, with the collective endeavors of current and former United Nations staff and volunteers, over time The Latina Project: Breaking the Cycle…Breaking the Silence research project became noteworthy news outside the small town of Bonao. As such, prior to launching the economic empowerment project, Dr. Caban-Vazquez will travel to Geneva, Switzerland to confer with the United Nations Dominican Republic Ambassador as well as meet with the United Nations Dominican Republic Ambassador stationed in Santo Domingo. As an advocacy researcher, she will apprise the UN dignitaries of the status of the research project and her goal of presenting research findings and the implications of this research at the 2014 World Humanitarian Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

SOCIAL CHANGERS WITHOUT BORDERS, INC.                                                                          A special thanks goes to Dr. Caban-Vazquez’s fellow executive board members of the humanitarian research organization Social Changers without Borders, Inc. (Appendix B). Their belief in Dr. Caban-Vazquez’s humanitarian research capabilities and their support nurtured her idea for this advocacy research study.  She is proud to be an active member of this outstanding organization.

ARTIST COLLABORATION WITH TANYA TORRES                                                                 The lead researcher would also like to thank the talented Latina artist Tanya Torres for her artistic contribution. Tanya Torres has extended permission for Dr. Caban-Vazquez to use her inspirational and cultural iconic figure—Cacibayagua: Taina Goddess— in any promotional literature and research reports sharing the worked centered on The Latina Domestic Violence Research Project. In August 2013, when the research team travels back to Bonao, Dr. Caban-Vazquez will deliver a special inspirational gift especially designed to inspire the 10 domestic violence victims. Mrs. Torres lovingly hand–crafted unique wearable art necklaces with the inspirational image of Cacibayagua— the mythical Taina Goddess. Traditional Dominican folklore describes how Cacibayagua is the original life source of the indigenous Taino Indians that emerged from her beautiful cave. The inspirational intention behind sharing this gift is to encourage the women.  In the face of adversity and their personal decision to renounce the economic stranglehold of their abusers, these empowered women call recall the legend of Cacibayagua.  The necklace signifies their promise and legacy as Latina women and descendants of the rich Taino culture.  It is a symbolic reminder to tap into the spiritual strength of their inner Taina goddess. This artistic gift serves as a beautiful and concrete reminder of their legacy and the promise of their destiny as “empowered” women and not “beaten” women.              HER WEBSITE IS

IMG_0929LOVING CIRCLE OF FAMILY & FRIENDS                                                                            Dr. Caban-Vazquez is eternally grateful for the generous support she received from a loving circle of intimate family and friends.  After the lead researcher did an extensive literature review of viable empowerment strategies for battered women, she recognized the strong potential for making the greatest impact in the lives of these abused women. Subsequently, she rallied for financial support with the Friends Against Domestic Violence fundraising website at  at (Appendix D).

PURCHASED MATERIALS FOR THE ECONOMIC PROJECT                                                  SCHOOL UNIFORM COOPERATIVE:                                                                                          This community grassroots initiative helped to secure a modest portion of funds. As a result, with the additional financial support of Albert and Loida, the researcher was able to purchase 10 sewing machines and secure the safe shipment of those machines. In addition, monies raised helped to purchase the bulk of the essential seamstress tools needed to economically empower the domestic violence survivors.  A compassionate circle of friends saw the collective power of this economic empowerment vision and they worked together to establish a toolkit for the success of this school uniform cooperative. Dr. Caban-Vazquez keeps her dedicated group of supporters updated on the latest developments of this work using her research blog at http://doctoravazquez. wordpress. com (Appendix E).

IMG_0919Last but not the least, she wishes to thank her supportive son Christopher for his encouragement in pursuing her research dreams. Vilma values his endearing token of support and love in helping her create positive social change for battered women.  In the spring of 2013, Christopher served as editor-in-chief of his college newspaper and he invited his mother to write an informational article about this topic. It meant the world to her.

Lastly, without the love and support of her Heavenly Father this would not be possible.  She firmly believes that her creator is celebrating  the fruits of this community labor with Vilma’s beloved mother.  Without the love of community, this form of collective social change endeavor would not be possible.


TOGETHER…we can all encourage a culture of positive social change for the survivors of domestic violence in this Latino community. Please ask yourself what you can do or contribute to this cause. Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

When we empower a woman…we empower a community. 
Dr. Vilma Caban-Vazquez
Fundraising Coordinator & Executive Board Member
Social Changers without Borders, Inc.






As the only daughter of a battered Latina immigrant from Puerto Rico, I witnessed how my mother Maria suffered as a victim of Domestic Violence.  Perhaps this is where I began fine-tuning my advocacy lens.  It was in the midst of these turbulent moments where sparks took the form of my heart’s desire to share the urgent call for helping battered women. Regrettably, there are unsettling memories which at times tend to resurface. However, they activate this researcher’s deep set longing to examine the extent of how my mother Maria suffered. When I was young, my mother would urge me not to say anything and to keep “family problems”… PRIVATE.  She would advise me that it’s best not get other people involved in your marital problems.  As a result, Maria dealt with the conflicting pain of staying in an abusive relationship for the sake of her family and children. She carried this pain for over 25 years.

This researcher had a tough secret to keep.  I wondered how many other women and children actually walk around with haunting memories of domestic violence or “family problems” on their heavy hearts. In April 2012, right before my mother lost her battle with cancer, I vowed at my mother’s deathbed that I would use her story to… break the silence… and break the cycle of domestic violence.

As an advocacy researcher, in the summer of 2012, I had the honor of launching my first domestic violence research study in the Dominican Republic. The Latina Project: Breaking the Silence…Breaking the Cycle . It was my way of establishing a research footprint on an elusive phenomena that maintains an emotional, spiritual, physical, and economic stranglehold on many Latino communities.

Initially, I was inclined to reach out to my mom’s hometown in Puerto Rico, but after much introspection, I realized that personally it was too soon to  examine this challenging topic so painfully close to home. At this juncture, it was best to examine the broader issue of domestic violence.  I recognized that it was important to widen the aperture of this obscure topic and gain a stronger understanding of the issues related to domestic violence in many Latino communities.

Ultimately, this qualitative researcher elected to pursue a replicable course of study that could help her examine the underlying universal themes that are evident in domestic violence in Latino communities.  I selected a Caribbean sister community not far away from Puerto Rico…it was Columbus’ first discovery… and symbolically it would serve as this researcher’s first discover of domestic violence.  It was the captivating country of the Dominican Republic.


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