Estimated 1 in 14 women worldwide survivors of sexual violence in lifetime

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1. Worldwide, 1 in 14 women over the age of 15 were victims of sexual violence by someone other than a partner during their lifetime. This prevalence is likely to be even higher due to under-reporting on this highly stigmatized issue.

2. The high prevalence of worldwide non-partner sexual violence implies that this occurrence is neither regionally exclusive nor infrequent and that successful strategies to ensure sexual equality demand systemic changes in policy and framework concerning sexual violence.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Fair)

Study Rundown: Sexual violence has come to international center stage following a number of highly publicized rapes and murders in India and South Africa. Research focusing on violence within intimate partnerships has increased steadily, but investigation into non-partner sexual violence has not received the same attention. This study sought to close this gap by quantifying the prevalence of non-partner sexual violence worldwide and reveals the extensive reality of this phenomenon. Using 412 estimates of violence, this systematic review assessed worldwide prevalence of non-partner sexual violence in women aged 15 years and older in 56 countries. The breadth of this study provided strong evidence that sexual violence is a frequent experience for women worldwide. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa were found to have the highest prevalence of sexual violence, and countries in southern Asia were found to have the lowest rate. Worldwide prevalence of non-partner sexual violence was estimated at 7.2%. This figure is likely a drastic underestimate owing to limitations such as under-reporting due to stigmatization, challenges of conducting quality population-based studies in conflict areas, and lack of standard indicators and analyses for exclusively assessing non-partner sexual violence. Previous systematic reviews have demonstrated that non-partner sexual violence can lead to multiple negative long-term health outcomes, principally mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse. Even with the limitations of this data, this study confirms that the prevalence of sexual violence is a critical human rights concern and that more detailed tools to gauge non-partner sexual violence are crucial to more accurately understanding and ultimately eliminating its occurrence.

Click to read the study in The Lancet

Relevant Reading: Prevalence of intimate partner violence: findings from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence

In-Depth [systematic review]: This study assessed the worldwide population-based prevalence of sexual violence against women ages 15 years and older by non-intimate partners. 7231 abstracts or records published between 1998 and 2011 were identified for screening. Incorrect study design (non-population-based studies), analysis of combined perpetrators, and types of violence focused on intimate-partner violence were the main exclusion criteria. After review, 77 studies covering 56 countries were included and yielded 412 estimates of violence. Globally, 7.2% (95% CI 5.2-9.1) of women aged 15 years or older reported non-partner sexual violence during their lifetimes. Considerable variation in prevalence was seen between regions, ranging from 3.3% (95% CI 0-8.3) in south Asia, to 21.0% (95% CI 4.5-37.5) in central and southern sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia.

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