Around 35% of women experience violence at the hands of their partners or other sexual violence, the World Health Organization reported Thursday, in the first systematic study to examine global data on violence against women.
Working with colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, WHO researchers compiled population data from all over the world to report global and local prevalence estimates for sexual and intimate partner violence.
Violence by an intimate partner predominated, occurring in 30% of women worldwide. In places such as Southeast Asia (including Bangladesh, East Timor, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand), the Eastern Mediterranean (including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine) and Sub-Saharan Africa, the number was even higher, with as many as 38% of women abused at the hands of someone with whom they were in a relationship.
Women who experienced intimate partner violence were more likely to suffer a variety of health problems, including injuries, having a low-birth-weight baby, having an abortion and being depressed. Such women were also more likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. As many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by partners, the researchers also added.
Seven percent of women globally had been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. These women, too, suffered adverse outcomes, such as increased problems with alcohol use and depression.
In a statement, WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said that the findings “send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” adding that health officials needed to do more for women who experience violence.
Along with the new statistics, the agency released guidelines designed to help countries fight the problem. They urged countries to train healthcare workers to recognize when women are at risk of partner violence and to set up and enforce systems that will assure confidentiality and guide women to appropriate treatment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about intimate partner violence here.