Sexual Violence Is All Too Common Worldwide

Summary and Comment |
March 10, 2014

Sexual Violence Is All Too Common Worldwide

  1. Diane E. Judge, APN/CNP

An estimated 7.2% of women globally have experienced nonpartner sexual violence.

  1. Diane E. Judge, APN/CNP

Sexual violence against women is a major public health and human rights problem with serious physical and mental health consequences for women and their children. Researchers for the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study sought to quantify the worldwide incidence of nonpartner sexual violence against women aged 15 and older. In all, 412 estimates (36 from peer-reviewed articles) from 77 population-based studies in 56 countries were included in the analysis. Most defined nonpartner sexual violence as a positive answer to the question, “Were you ever forced to have sex or perform a sexual act when you did not want to with someone other than your partner?” and most did not distinguish between single and multiple incidents.

After adjustment for covariates such as training of fieldworkers (which increases likelihood of disclosure) and whether perpetrators were individual or multiple, the data showed that an estimated 7.2% of women had ever experienced nonpartner sexual violence. Prevalence ranged from 3.3% in South Asia (data from India and Bangladesh only) to 21.0% in central sub-Saharan Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo only and based on a single estimate). Prevalence was 13.0% in North America (U.S., Canada), 11.5% in Western Europe, and 7.2% in Japan. The authors caution that study quantity and quality varied by region. Furthermore, underreporting due to reluctance to disclose nonpartner sexual violence, even to trained workers, probably also varied by region.


Recent instances of sexual violence in India — but also in the U.S. military and on college campuses — have focused attention on this topic. Preventing sexual violence against women requires political, cultural, and socioeconomic action far beyond the scope of individual clinicians. In practice, we should remain cognizant that women of any cultural background might be survivors of sexual violence, which could underlie depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, and other ills. Maintaining and using culturally appropriate resources (such as referral sources and support groups) for these women may help improve their lives.

Editor Disclosures at Time of Publication

  • Disclosures for Diane E. Judge, APN/CNP at time of publication Nothing to disclose


Reader Comments (1)

walter mcphee


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