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Estimated one in 14 women worldwide sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Raising Voices / Strive projectWorldwide, one in 14 women (7.2%) aged 15 years or older report being sexually assaulted by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lives, according to new research published in The Lancet looking at the prevalence of non-partner sexual violence*.

The estimates suggest that the global picture varies widely. Regions with the highest rates of sexual violence are central sub-Saharan Africa (21%), southern sub-Saharan Africa (17.4%), and Australasia (16.4%). The regions of North Africa/ Middle East (4.5%) and South Asia (3.3%) reported the lowest rates.

After searching systematically for studies published over 13 years (1998–2011) containing data on the global prevalence of women’s reported experiences of sexual violence by anyone except intimate partners, experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the South African Medical Research Council and the World Health Organization, identified 77 suitable studies, compiling data on 412 estimates of violence from 56 countries.

The authors found that sexual violence is a common experience for women worldwide, and in some regions is endemic, reaching more than 15% in four regions. However, they note that regional variations need to be interpreted with caution because of differences in data availability and levels of disclosure.

Study co-author Professor Charlotte Watts, Director of the Gender, Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Our findings, that one in 14 women worldwide has been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner, highlight what a pressing health and human rights concern this is. There are still many gaps in the global data – countries need to have strong population-based data, to ensure that they can understand the scale of problem, and who is most at risk. Alongside support and legal responses, it is important to invest in prevention to stop future violence."

Within Europe, eastern Europe (6.9%) had a much lower prevalence of sexual assault than central (10.7%) and western regions (11.5%).

The authors point out that these data probably underestimate the true magnitude of the issue because of the stigma and blame attached to sexual violence that leads to under-reporting and a lack of good-quality population-based data. Eight regions had data only from one country and many countries had no data at all.


*Non-partner sexual violence is perpetrated by people such as strangers, acquaintances, friends, colleagues, peers, teachers, neighbours, and family members other than a partner.

Image credit: Raising Voices/ STRIVE

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