Global analysis: More than 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence before age 50

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MONTREAL — Disturbing global research from McGill University and the World Health Organization reports that over one in four women (27%) experience a form of intimate partner abuse before their 50th birthday. This is the largest ever project of its kind, encompassing 366 studies and two million women living in 161 different countries.

“Intimate partner violence against women – which includes physical and sexual violence by husbands, boyfriends, and other partners – is highly prevalent globally,” says McGill University Professor Mathieu Maheu-Giroux, a Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modeling, in a university release.

The new report finds one in seven women (13%) dealt with intimate partner violence within the last year of the study period (2000-2018). The data also points to especially high levels of abuse directed toward young women. It’s estimated that 24 percent of studied women between the ages of 15 and 19 had already experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.

Even worse, study authors concede that these numbers almost certainly only tell a portion of the story. Numerous domestic violence incidents go unreported, and these findings were solely based on participants’ self-reported experiences. It’s well-documented that many women are hesitant to report partner abuse, either out of fear of reprisal or the general stigmatized nature of the issue.

Numerous regional variations in rates of violence were noted. Higher income nations tended to have lower rates of both lifetime and past-year violence. Lifetime violence prevalence was highest among females aged 15-49 living in Africa, South Asia, and parts of South America. Conversely, Central Asia and Central Europe had the lowest estimated lifetime rates of domestic violence.

Roughly five percent of women living in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific experienced intimate partner violence over the past year. In parts of Africa this statistic reached as high as 15-30 percent.

“While Canada is among the top 30 countries with the lowest rates of intimate partner violence, it’s still a problem that affects 1 in 25 women,” notes Maheu-Giroux. “Some provinces in Canada are looking at different ways to address domestic violence. In Quebec, for example, the government approved a pilot project in 2021 to create a special court for victims of domestic and sexual violence.”

“Overall, our research shows that governments are not on track to meet global targets to eliminate violence against women and girls. An important takeaway is that even in some high-income countries the prevalence of intimate partner violence is relatively high, which calls for investment in prevention at local and global levels,” Maheu-Giroux continues. “In Québec alone, we witnessed a wave of 17 intimate partner feminicides in 2021 – the most extreme consequence of intimate partner violence and the highest number in more than a decade.”

Researchers add that rates of domestic violence were likely worsened over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study is published in The Lancet.