LONDON, England, Thursday June 27, 2013 — In the first major global review of violence against women, a series of reports released last week found that about a third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner.
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Margaret Chan called it “a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” and other experts said screening for domestic violence should be added to all levels of health care.
Among the findings: 40 percent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner, and being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women.
Researchers used a broad definition of domestic violence, and in cases where country data was incomplete, estimates were used to fill in the gaps.
WHO defined physical violence as being slapped, pushed, punched, choked or attacked with a weapon.
Sexual violence was defined as being physically forced to have sex, having sex for fear of what the partner might do and being compelled to do something sexual that was humiliating or degrading.
The report also examined rates of sexual violence against women by someone other than a partner and found about 7 percent of women worldwide had previously been a victim.
In conjunction with the report, WHO issued guidelines for authorities to spot problems earlier and said all health workers should be trained to recognize when women may be at risk and how to respond appropriately.
Globally, the WHO review found 30 percent of women are affected by domestic or sexual violence by a partner. The report was based largely on studies from 1983 to 2010.
According to the United Nations, more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
The rate of domestic violence against women was highest in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where 37 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lifetimes. The rate was 30 percent in Latin America and 23 percent in North America. In Europe and Asia, it was 25 percent.
In a related paper published Thursday online in the journal Lancet, researchers found more than 38 percent of slain women are killed by a former or current partner, six times higher than the rate of men killed by their partners.
Heidi Stoeckl, one of the authors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the figures were probably an underestimate. She and colleagues found that worldwide, a woman’s highest risk of murder was from a current or ex-partner.
In countries like India, Stoeckl said “honour killings,” where women are sometimes murdered over dowry disputes or perceived offenses like infidelity to protect the family’s reputation, add to the problem.
She also noted that women and men are often slain by their partners for different reasons.
“When a woman kills her male partner, it’s usually out of self-defense because she has been abused,” she said. “But when a woman is killed, it’s often after she has left the relationship and the man is killing her out of jealousy or rage.”
Stoeckl said criminal justice authorities should intervene sooner.