One in three women worldwide has faced intimate partner violence or sexual violence, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) finds. After analyzing the mental, sexual, reproductive, and physical health consequences faced by victims of violence, the report characterized this issue as a global health epidemic.
“This is a shockingly high figure,” Karen Davies, an epidemiologist who contributed to the study, told NPR. “The levels of violence are very high everywhere.”
All of the WHO-identified geographic regions showed a high prevalence rate, between 24 and 38 percent, with a global average of 35.6 percent. The average rate for high-income countries was slightly lower, at 23.2 percent. Non-partner sexual violence was found to have a global prevalence of 7.2 percent, but the authors of the report cautioned that there was a lack of data on this kind of violence.
The report focused on health consequences of violence against women, finding that victims of intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence were twice as likely to face depression and almost twice as likely to develop alcohol use disorders. They are also more likely to have low birth-weight babies and to contract sexually transmitted infections, and 42 percent of them suffer serious injuries as a result. The report also found that 38 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, said in a press release.
In response, the WHO is calling for increased “women-centered care,” saying that “health care providers should, at minimum, offer first-line support when women disclose violence.” The global health experts are calling for better integration of patient-centric services for women facing violence into existing health services, clinical and otherwise. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a WHO physician, encouraged integrating these issues in basic training for healthcare providers. “What we hear from women is that oftentimes, just having an empathetic listener who can provide some practical support and help her get access to some other services — that in itself is an important intervention,” Garcia-Moreno explained.
The one in three statistic is not new, but this report marks the first time it has been confirmed by a global study.