More than one in three women will suffer physical or sexual violence

By Sarah Boseley / The Guardian

More than a third of all women worldwide – 35.6% – will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, usually from a male partner, according to the first comprehensive study of its kind from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The report reveals the shocking extent of attacks on women from the men with whom they share their lives, with 30% of women being attacked by partners. It also finds that a large proportion of murders of women – 38% – are carried out by intimate partners.

“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” said Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO. “We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”

The highest levels of violence against women are in Africa, where nearly half of all women – 45.6% – will suffer physical or sexual violence. In low- and middle-income Europe, the proportion is 27.2%. Yet wealthier nations are not necessarily always safer for women – a third of women in high-income countries (32.7%) will experience violence at some stage in their life.

Of the women who suffer violence, 42% sustain injuries, which can bring them to the attention of healthcare staff. That, says the report, is often the first opportunity for violence in the home to be detected and for the woman to be offered help.

Violence has a profound effect on women’s health. Some arrive at hospital with broken bones, while others suffer pregnancy-related complications and mental illness.

The two reports from the WHO – one on the prevalence of violence, the other offering guidelines to healthcare staff on helping women – are the work of Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno, lead specialist in gender, reproductive rights, sexual health and adolescence at WHO, and Professor Charlotte Watts, an epidemiologist who specialises in gender, violence and health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“For the first time we have compared data from all over the world on the magnitude of partner violence and sexual violence by non-partners and the impact of these sorts of violence on health,” said Garcia-Moreno. These included HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, depression, women turning to alcohol, unwanted pregnancies and low-birthweight babies.

There were variations in the rates of violence against women in different regions of the world but, said Garcia-Moreno, “in whatever region we looked at, it is unacceptably high”.

Even in high-income countries, 23.2% of women will suffer physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lives, their data from 81 countries shows. The global figure for women attacked by partners was 30%.

More sexual assaults and rapes by acquaintances or strangers are reported in high-income countries than elsewhere – the report says that 12.6% of women in wealthy countries will be sexually attacked by a non-partner in their life, which is higher than the African rate of 11.9%. But the data on such crimes is not well collected in all regions.

The authors say that their previous research shows that better-educated women are less likely to suffer violence, as are those who have jobs, although not in all regions.

There is a need to tackle social norms, said Watts. “What are society’s attitudes concerning the acceptability of certain forms of violence against women?” she asked. “In some societies it is not OK – but not all.”

“I think the numbers are a wake-up call for all of us to pay more attention to this issue,” said Garcia-Moreno. Over the past decade there had been increasing recognition of the problem, she said, but “one has to recognise that it is a complex problem. We don’t have a vaccine or a pill”.

The new WHO clinical and policy guidelines recommend training for healthcare staff in recognising the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault, but they rule out general screening – there is not a case for asking every woman who arrives in a clinic whether she has been subjected to violence.

“But if you see a woman coming back several times with undisclosed injuries, you should be asking about domestic violence,” said Garcia-Moreno. “When I was training in medical school, it wasn’t something you learned or knew about. Years later, I was sometimes in a situation where I could tell there was something else going on in the woman I was interviewing, but didn’t have any sense that domestic violence was the issue. Now I think I would handle the interview very differently.”

From The Guardian:

5 thoughts on “More than one in three women will suffer physical or sexual violence”

  1. i’ve been more-or-less homeless/travelling for the past five years or so and have discovered something even worse than “1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted.” i’ve discovered that i have never (NEVER) met a female on the streets who has NOT been raped or sexually assaulted. the common phrase goes something like “never wear pink on the streets.” my favorite human being in the whole world was assaulted so many times while hitching to california that when she returned to the northwest she shaved her head and started wearing baggy “boys” clothes so people would think she was a girl. then, subsequently i found that she wasn’t the only one. it’s disgustingly common. bottom up or top down doesn’t matter – if we’re advocating for the most vulnerable people these should be the first on our list.

    i don’t know anything about politics and i hate abstractions – i have never done any scientific statistical calculations… i just been out on the streets and it makes me violently angry when i hear that another friend of mine was raped or beaten up or assaulted – and usually (because i’m a scrawny dude) i know the guilty party and can’t do anything about it.

    street kids never call the cops – they will often be sitting across from the person who raped them, scared to death or brimming with hatred, and nothing ever gets done about it. the second you talk about organizing something or doing something to stop it you sound like an oogle or a snitch or the great white (straight male) hope and nobody wants any part of it.

    fix that problem… that problem’s fixable… c’mon dgr portland – why don’t i ever see you guys out on third at night?

    too busy wordpressing?

  2. Thanks Jasper, even hearing that from one lone guy makes a difference. I spent a year out on the road last year, and I had two pitbulls and a hammer with me. I needed them both. I’ve survived two rapes earlier in my life and I guess I never got normal enough for society. I did my best, but it was never good enough. Now I’m 50 and back living with my Dad and it’s the closest to normal I’ve ever had, but I’ll never be right.

    And I have to wake up each new day to whatever new and exciting legislation is being introduced to return me to the status of a cow, while rape victim after rape victim is judged for not wanting to carry a rape baby, or slut shamed for her clothes. Our armed service women are just meat for an adrenaline-pumped male dominated war machine, and no one cares. It makes all the difference in the world that someone cares, even if you’re skinny and think you can’t “do anything”. You can speak, and you can write- you already did do something. Please don’t stop.

  3. Thanks for this. The question is: why do women partner with men?

    Answers: Because they are forced to by 1) child marriage 2) familial and social pressure 3) obstructions to being employed and becoming independent 4) not being allowed to be educated 5) romantic brainwashing 6) temporary desire for a particular man 7) male coercion to remain in a destructive relationship.

    When women are full citizens/humans and free, will they partner with men?

    I don’t think so.

    1. I don’t think they will continue to partner with men at the same rate, either. Which, obviously, explains why women are so oppressed by men. Once they are free, they may no longer be freely available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *