The problem is exacerbated by the belief that machismo – that peculiarly Latin American brand of misogyny – and the subjugation of women is just part of the culture. "[W]e need to acknowledge that these forms of violence come from social differences in power and from male ideologies that sustain these differences … and subordinate women," according to sociologist Denise Paiewonsky.

Women in the Dominican Republic are vulnerable to violence and abuse thanks, in part, to their status in society. In employment, participation in the workforce is 50.5%, compared to 79.8% of men (pdf), and the unemployment rates of women are double that of men, 23%, compared to 10% (pdf). Additionally, women make 44% less than what men earn for equal work, and regardless of whatever rule is on the books, employers are known to mandate pregnancy tests as part of a pre-hire medical examination and decline women whose tests are positive.

This economic disparity puts women in a vulnerable position because it renders them powerless and, in an abusive situation, complicates the process of leaving. Add to that, decades of uncriminalized domestic violence, and the belief that this is simply how things are becomes ingrained.

"It is common in our community to hit women. It is a tradition," said Lourdes, a 60-year-old housewife who was abused by her husband for over two decades. That tradition became well-established, since the island – which declared its independence from Spain in 1865 – did not pass its first law concerning domestic abuse until 1997. Even so, what's on the statutes does not necessarily translate to what gets enforced.

With a population of about 10 million, gender-based violence is the fourth leading cause of death among women in the Dominican Republic. In the span of six years, 1,383 women and girls were killed – 783 at the hands of a current or former partner. But, according to the NGO Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (Cladem), of 10,000 complaints in 2010, just "476 cases of violence against women received judgment, with only 66 convicted offenders." What's more, 80% of those killed had not previously filed a complaint with law enforcement – suggesting women's lack of trust in the system, or knowledge about the availability of resources to get help.