LONDON * In the first major global review of violence against
women, a series of reports released Thursday found that about a
third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a
former or current partner.
The head of the World Health Organization, 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
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
Some experts said screening for domestic violence should be added
to all levels of health care, such as obstetric clinics.
"It's unlikely that someone would walk into an ER and disclose
they've been assaulted," said Sheila Sprague of McMaster University
in Canada, who has researched domestic violence in women at
orthopedic clinics. She was not connected to the WHO report.
However, "over time, if women are coming into a fracture clinic
or a prenatal clinic, they may tell you they are suffering abuse if
you ask," she said. …