More than half of Bolivian women have suffered domestic violence, according to a report out Thursday that found such abuse widespread in Latin America, with partners usually the perpetrators.
In seven of the 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries surveyed by the Pan American Health Organization, more than one in four women reported having experienced such brutality in their lifetimes.
At 17 percent, women in the Dominican Republic reported the lowest level of domestic violence. It was followed by its neighbor Haiti, the poorest country in the region, with 19 percent.
PAHO pointed to social and cultural norms that support violence against women in the region, including that "there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten" and "a man has a right to assert power over a woman and is considered socially superior."
It also found that physical violence is considered an "acceptable way" to resolve conflict in a relationship and that sexual activity -- including rape -- is a "marker of masculinity."
Even when looking at just a 12-month period, rather than an entire lifetime, the report found that more than a quarter of women -- 25.5 percent -- in Bolivia reported physical or sexual violence in 2008.
The lowest ratio, at 7.7 percent, was in El Salvador (2008) and Jamaica (2008-2009).
In up to 82 percent of cases, women suffered physical injuries, ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones, miscarriages and burns.
Despite the abuse, between 28 percent and 64 percent of victims did not speak to anyone or seek help, according to the 156-page report, titled "Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean."
The analysis of more than 180,000 women also showed that women who were beaten in childhood reported violence at the hands of their partners as adults at higher rates than those who were not hit when they were young.
"In addition to violating basic human rights, violence against women has serious consequences for the health of women and their children and impacts heavily on health services and health workers in the region," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses.
In all countries except Paraguay, women said a partner's drunkenness or drug use was the most common trigger for violence. The second most commonly cited cause was jealousy.
PAHO, which is based in Washington, warned that violence against women has consequences across generations, with violence against women and against children often taking place in the same household.
"When women experience violence, their children suffer," it said.
"Growing evidence suggests that when children witness or suffer violence directly, they may be at increased risk of becoming aggressors or victims in adulthood."
The report said that children living in households where women were subject to violence were at significantly greater risk of being punished with hitting, beating, spanking or slapping.
Countries participating in the study included Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. Data was culled from national surveys conducted between 2003 and 2009.