How a Personal Experience Led to a Program of Research Focused on Eliminating Intimate Partner Violence Disparities Among Hispanic Women

May 18, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health has designated May 13 to May 19 as National Women’s Health Week. It is designed to bring together communities, businesses, government, health organizations and others to promote women’s health. The goal in 2012 is to empower women to make their health a top priority. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Blog is launching an occasional series on women’s health in conjunction with the week. This post is by Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, MPH, RN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar and Assistant Professor, University of Miami, School of Nursing & Health Studies.

As a young Cuban-American and Miami native who grew up in an Hispanic enclave, I was naturally drawn to Hispanic men—short, dark and handsome. Who would have expected that I would have found him during my last year of college at Georgetown University in Washington, DC? I fell in love with this other Cuban-American Miami native quickly. He was fun, smart, charming, had strong family values and, to top it all off, he could dance salsa and merengue.

It was not too long before I realized that my college sweetheart was jealous and controlling. However, this did not seem all that unusual since these are characteristics that are endorsed by many in the culture where I come from. In fact, when I questioned that he was “allowed” to go out with his friends to bars, but I was not, some family and friends agreed with him. Although I did not realize it at the time, the “allowed” language and his controlling behavior were a good indicator of what lay ahead in our relationship—a nightmare.

Moments of romance and bliss turned into moments of anger, aggression and torment. Times of peace grew shorter and shorter, as he grew increasingly emotionally abusive. He did some “man handling” too.

When I decided to go off to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, things got worse. I was in another city and the co-chair of a social and cultural student committee. This made him feel like he was completely out of control and very jealous. He grew more aggressive and emotionally abusive. My family and friends became increasingly worried about me, as they saw my cheery personality slowly dwindle. My parents put a lot of pressure on me to break things off. I knew they were right, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just needed time.

I thought that I could appease my family by getting help. I went to the school psychologist and when a faculty member at the School of Nursing looked for volunteers for a research study on teen dating violence, I quickly signed up. At that time, I had no idea that the Principal Investigator of the study was a world renowned violence researcher: who else but our very own Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, who directs the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program. Working on this study made me realize that I also wanted to conduct research on health disparities affecting my own community of Hispanic women at home. As I fell in love with the prospects of health disparities and violence research, I fell out of love with an abusive partner.

Unfortunately, my personal experience with dating violence is not unique. In fact, teen dating violence (TDV)—physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse occurring in a dating or previously dating relationship—affects 1 out of 4 adolescents in the U.S. every year (CDC, 2010). The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System results have indicated that a higher percentage of Hispanic students (11.5%) report physical TDV victimization in the past 12 months than non-Hispanic Whites (8.0%). Research indicates that TDV is highly predictive of abuse in future relationships (Smith et al., 2003) and that Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is associated with a myriad of negative physical, psychological and social health consequences (Campbell, 2002). Clearly, this is an important women’s and Hispanic health issue.

For the last seven years, I have been studying IPV and other behavioral conditions among Hispanics in my hometown of Miami. Research with community Hispanic women has indicated that IPV is one of the most important behavioral health issues for Hispanic women, if not the most important. For example, in a study exploring substance abuse, violence and risky sexual behaviors among Hispanic women, IPV was identified as the most prevalent and concerning of the conditions explored (Gonzalez-Guarda et al., 2008; Gonzalez-Guarda et al., 2011).

In a follow up community-based participatory research study exploring the needs and preferences of Hispanics in Miami-Dade County for IPV prevention, the development of a teen dating violence prevention program for Hispanic youth was identified as the highest priority IPV issue to address (Gonzalez-Guarda et al., 2012). The community felt that by investing in Hispanic youth through universal school-based prevention programs, we could break the cycle of abuse that is so concerning to Hispanic families and communities. Currently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program is supporting me to develop and pilot test a culturally specific and theoretically driven TDV prevention program for Hispanic youth.

My current program of research is driven by personal experiences, research supporting health disparities affecting Hispanics and particularly Hispanic women, and input from the communities I partner with on research. These three sources point toward one conclusion: the development of intimate partner violence prevention strategies is urgently needed. The future of women’s health and health disparities depends on it.


Campbell, J.C. (2002). Health consequences of intimate partner violence. Lancet, 359, 1331–1336.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2009, MMWR: 59 (No.SS-5). Retrieved January 12, 2011 from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Physical dating violence among high school students—United States, 2003. MMWR, 55:532-535.

Gonzalez-Guarda, R.M., Lipman-Diaz, E.B. & Cummings, A. (2012). A community forum to assess the needs and preferences for domestic violence prevention targeting Hispanics. Hispanic Health Care International 10(1): 18-27.

Gonzalez-Guarda, R.M., Peragallo, N., Urrutia, M.T., Vasquez, E.P. (2008). HIV risk, substance abuse and intimate partner violence among Hispanic females and their partners. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 19(4), 252-266.

Gonzalez-Guarda, R.M., Vasquez, E.P., Urrutia, M.T., Villarruel, A. & Peragallo, N., (2011). Hispanic females' experiences with substance abuse, intimate partner violence and risk for HIV. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 22(1), 46-54.

Smith PH, White JW, Holland LJ. (2003). A longitudinal perspective on dating violence among adolescent and college-age women. American Journal of Public Health. 2003;93(7):1104–9.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.