Valentina Martinez

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
This description of Valentina Martinez's work was prepared when Valentina Martinez was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.


Valentina’s work empowers citizens to recognize and acknowledge violence in their society, and then teaches constructive ways to combat the problem.


Valentina Martinez is working to end family violence in Chile by introducing a culture of collective responsibility to society. Most often, attitudes and behaviors about violence focus on the otherness of the victim or the abuser, resulting in the “safe” opinion that the problem is someone else’s, not our own. Valentina shatters this myth and demonstrates that family violence is not a problem faced by a single individual or an isolated family, but a societal problem that affects everyone. As such, it is incumbent upon all citizens to work toward its resolution.
To make this happen, Valentina works in conjunction with individuals, municipalities, and communities to implement a comprehensive program that breaks down perceptions and establishes a new set of relationships around the problem. This occurs through a replicable model for the diagnosis and coordination of efforts against family violence within a particular area. More broadly, she works at the national and institutional level to change how other actors in society, such as police or doctors, approach the problem. For each group, whether it is through a national or a community based strategy, she provides a simple set of standard practices which become a protocol for understanding and addressing the problem. This is complemented by the networking of all actors on the national scene as well a media campaign to create a sense of collective responsibility for violence.


Family violence and child abuse represent major social problems in Chile. Fifty percent of married women have experienced violence from their partners, 16 percent have been psychologically abused, and 34 percent have experienced physical or sexual violence. Seven of ten girls and boys live through physical and psychological maltreatment from their parents, and 25 percent of them are seriously physically abused (UNICEF, 2000). Moreover, there are 18,000 cases annually of sexual abuse of children between 5 and 14 years old, with most carried out by a relative or acquaintance. Children see and learn about violence at home from their parents and the problem is passed down through generations.
These disturbing numbers are rooted in a profoundly machista culture and a tradition of hiding violence under the auspices of privacy. The old Chilean saying “by reason or by force” perhaps best summarizes society’s view of violence, and family violence is particularly embedded in society. One recently study showed that 80 percent of those who had been physically beaten by their partners did not perceive the act as violence. This percentage is thought to be even higher in the case of children─sad evidence that Chilean youth experience violence as a normal phenomenon. Violence continues to be treated as a problem faced by certain marginal, undesirable members of society, or a private matter to be dealt with by couples themselves, rather than as a social problem in desperate need of a solution.
Government policy has done little to foster a solution to the problem. This failure is rooted in a simple denial that violence is truly a serious phenomenon that needs to be seriously addressed. Domestic violence and child abuse cases are not heard in criminal courts but in family courts. This distinction reinforces the sense that violence is a private matter and not one to be taken seriously by authorities. Moreover, the government has not adopted policies that recognize and act upon the complex and pervasive nature of violence in Chilean society. Family violence is treated as a series of independent phenomenon without common roots—different government entities deal with spousal abuse, child abuse, and sexual abuse. None of the relevant institutions—from schools to hospitals to the police—have a system to coordinate responses to violence.


Valentina has devised a framework for local intervention, backed by a national campaign, which is driven by individual strategies for institutions. These interventions inform and legitimize her efforts to spread her comprehensive model to institutions nationally and to change government policy. The approach is flexible enough to be applied to different local communities but at the same time provides a definite structure that ensures effective replication.
Valentina’s successful model includes the following: 1) A comprehensive study of social resources, institutions and government programs addressing domestic violence. 2) A productive dialogue that informs each actor and lays the groundwork for an integrated and cooperative approach. 3) A study summarizing information on domestic violence in each community to analyze its manifestation. 4) A community intervention model which clarifies priorities, resources, and the roles of each institution. 5) Training for each institution in the skills it will need to provide the new services. And finally, implementation: the institutions begin their roles, now clearly articulated, and the plan is put into effect. Newly uncovered domestic violence problems are treated by the new community network and prevention work begins.
Valentina is working on multiple levels in society to fundamentally change Chile’s attitude and approach toward domestic violence. But despite the diverse groups of actors she works with, one common principle ties together all of her work. In every case, whether the police department or the local health clinics, Valentina develops and implements a simple “protocol” for detection and action against violence. She has introduced new curriculum at the National Police Academy to train police in identifying, treating, and preventing domestic violence. She has introduced new diagnostic protocols in all the local health centers in Chile to help them treat and respond to domestic violence and prevent future cases. She also has implemented training modules for educators, judges, and other social workers in the detection and prevention of domestic violence. Valentina even has a special curriculum to teach children to protect themselves. By putting forth a simple set of steps for each party to take, she helps groups recognize that their inaction amounts to complicity and makes it easy for them to act against violence.
The approach has been honed and proven in the Central Neighborhood of Santiago. In one year a structure was created through which 30,000 people have been reached and educated with training designed to change attitudes and to identify and prevent domestic violence. One hundred organizations are working in concert with 120 professional representatives from the health, education, justice, and law enforcement sectors. The program has led to the comprehensive treatment of 650 victims of domestic violence in the first year and the prevention of many more. The success of the Santiago model gave rise to requests from 3 more communities with approximately 200,000 inhabitants to participate the following year, programs that are now underway. In addition, there is serious interest in Valentina’s model from an umbrella association that represents more than 340 of the communities and neighborhoods in Chile. She is now in discussions with that body about the spread of her ideas to the remaining communities.
Valentina is simultaneously working at national and institutional levels to change the environment in which the relevant bodies function. The curriculum she designed for police to address domestic violence is currently being taught at the National Police Academy to all of Chile’s new police officers in training. The protocol she designed for primary care doctors to detect subtle signs of domestic violence through annual physicals, in addition to being implemented in the communities adopting her community based approach, was adopted by 3 clinics in 2003, 30 in 2004 and 50 so far in 2005. Additionally, she is in discussions with the Chilean Minister of Education to adopt nationally the anti-domestic violence teacher training model that she has developed while working at the community level.
Valentina also works at the national level to promote awareness of the domestic violence problem through her media campaign. She has initiated a radio program called Open Relationships that is broadcast on national AM radio and on local radio stations within Chile. She is also a frequent guest on other Chilean radio and occasionally television programs where she raises awareness of Chile’s domestic violence problem. In addition to her media appearances, she is creating and educating a network of journalists and others who work in the media in order to raise awareness and affect the way in which domestic violence is covered in the media.
The national efforts not only provide structure and support to the local interventions, but they also help unite the disparate communities and institutions with which she is working. To give shape to this effort, she formed a network of participants so that they could share resources and information while coordinating their responses. On the Website for the network, all participants and interested parties can take action and learn about the strategies of their counterparts in similar institutions or communities across Chile.

Valentina was born in Santiago as the third of five siblings. Her parents had a great influence on her social vocation, as both had been active participants in spiritual movements. Her mother especially was an important force in the worker and union movements of her day. Their influence left Valentina permanently marked by a need to bring meaning to her life.
Valentina studied occupational therapy at the Catholic University of Chile, where her commitment to social justice was cemented by her participation in the student movement. From within that space she began reflecting upon and speaking about women’s issues and eventually became part of the National Commission of Women, where she helped design public policy.
Later, as she saw that political militarism wasn’t an effective tool for change, she began focusing her life’s work on hands-on work with women and social issues. With a group of women from her university, she helped create the influential young women’s group Alborbolas and from its platform began to work as a volunteer with women that had lived through family violence. It was during those years that Valentina experienced the revival of democracy in her country. This historic episode left her with a deep hope in the possibility of breaking the cycles of normalized violence and inequality she saw all around her.
A series of professional decisions brought Valentina to work at La Morada, one of the country’s pioneering feminist institutions working from civil society to address problems such as domestic violence. She quickly rose to a senior leadership position. Valentina participated in the creation of theoretical frameworks and methodologies for intervention and was a key player in early efforts to network women’s organizations to form a strong front from which to confront the dictatorship.
When democracy was established in Chile, Valentina began working at the community level in Santiago with women who had been abused by their spouses. This was a critical experience that allowed her to understand the different sets of community actors working independently to address domestic violence from a health, education, or policy angle.
Valentina formalized her work to end all forms of family violence in Chile by founding the organization Santiago Rukama.