Monday marks the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women, the United Nations’ annual effort to raise awareness about the women around the world who fall victim to gender-based violence. It’s the beginning of a 16-day period of activism, culminating with Human Rights Day on December 10th — an attempt to make the point that addressing violence against women is an inextricable part of ensuring basic human rights for everyone around the world.
“Violence against women and girls directly affects individuals while harming our common humanity,” Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Secretary-General, said in a statement to commemorate the day. “This International Day to End Violence against Women is an opportunity for all people to recommit to preventing and halting all forms of violence against women and girls.”
In light of the international activism around this issue, here are five facts to keep in mind about gender-based violence’s impact in the United States:
1. Violence against women is an epidemic global health problem. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that one in three women around the world is subject to sexual violence at some point in her life. And a recent UN report found that as many as one in four men in some part of the world have committed rape. These numbers aren’t necessarily new, but the WHO’s and UN’s recent studies represent the most sweeping international research ever conducted into the issue. It’s not hard to see why the the UN considers violence against women to be “one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world.”
2. Domestic violence leads to long-term health problems. Violence against women isn’t always an isolated incidence; it often occurs within the context of an ongoing abusive relationship. This type of prolonged intimate partner violence has health consequences that can last for decades. Domestic abuse survivors have higher than average rates of depression, diabetes, asthma, and digestive disease. They are also more likely to struggle with drinking problems.
3. Domestic violence costs the U.S. more than $5 billion each year. Worldwide, intimate partner violence is the leading cause of women’s non-fatal injuries. Providing medical treatment for the physical and mental issues resulting from domestic abuse costs the United States an annual $4.1 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When factoring in lost productivity, the total cost of intimate partner rape, physical assault, and stalking tops $5.8 billion.
4. Not enough people are talking about violence against women. Even though this type of sexual violence has reached epidemic proportions, it’s still not widely discussed. Most Americans don’t feel comfortable talking about it, which creates an environment in which victims don’t feel safe enough to tell people about their abuse. And medical professionals aren’t accurately screening their patients for signs of intimate partner violence, something that prevents victims from being connected with the health services they need.
5. Especially when there’s a gun in the home, domestic violence is often fatal. Thanks to a loophole in federal law, some domestic abusers in the U.S. can still get their hands on guns. And the presence of a firearm quickly escalates violence against women, increasing the chance of a fatality by 500 percent. There are some concrete policy solutions to this issue: In states with stronger background checks for all gun sales, 38 percent fewer women are killed by intimate partners. Domestic violence prevention advocates are pushing for a national version of this type of background check legislation.