India is making headlines yet again for violence against women, but these examples are just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger global epidemic.
It turns out that sexual violence is mostly perpetrated by people known to the victim – not strangers.
Last week, two girls aged 12 and 14 were sexually assaulted and hanged in Uttar Pradesh. In a district nearby, another woman was gang raped and strangled according to The Guardian.
An Indian official, Babulal Guar, who is responsible for law and order in Madhya Pradesh, offered this astonishing perspective on rape: “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong,” according to the same Guardian article.
According to a study published in Science by authors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the World Health Organization, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and others, the most frequent form of violence against women globally is intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes sexual, physical, and emotional violence.
Globally, 18% and 49% of healthy years lost from depression and self-harm (primarily suicide) in females, respectively, are linked to intimate partner violence according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. The Science article also cites studies that found an increased risk of HIV infection among women exposed to intimate partner violence.
The following screen grab shows how rates of early death and suffering from intimate partner violence vary across different regions of the world among females. South Asia, which largely reflects trends in India, had the highest rates of any region shown in the graph. Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and Eastern Europe also had some of the highest rates of healthy years lost from intimate partner violence.
Rates of early death and disability from intimate partner violence by region, females, 2010
Note: Rates are adjusted for differences in ages and population across regions.
The next screen grab ranks the top 25 risk factors for suffering (called “disability” in the GBD study) among females in different world regions. Intimate partner violence was one of the top 10 risk factors in all regions. It was the third-highest cause of suffering in sub-Saharan African regions and Andean Latin America, which includes Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. It ranked fourth in South and Southeast Asia and North Africa and the Middle East.
Top 25 risk factors for disability by region, females, 2010
Even though intimate partner violence is a major public health issue worldwide, the cost of reporting sexual assault remains high in many countries. For example, in India, a mother of a rape victim was beaten severely as punishment for refusing to withdraw the charges against the perpetrator.
In Dubai, women from Norway, Great Britain, and Australia have been imprisoned for having sex outside of marriage after reporting rape to police. In the US, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that 19,000 men and women are sexually assaulted every year in the military, but only around 3,000 of them are reported.
Making sure victims of sexual assault feel comfortable—or even safe– reporting the crimes committed against them is only one way to address problem of intimate partner violence, but it seems that achieving this goal would be a major step in the right direction.
Katie Leach-Kemon, a weekly contributor of global health visual information posts for Humanosphere, is a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.