Violence Against Women Worldwide
- she has burnt the food,
- she has argued with him,
- she has gone out without telling him,
- she has neglected the children, or
- she has refused to have sex with him.
These findings were quite alarming to me, notably because 2005 research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that a higher rate of violence occurs when it is accepted or justified. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 64% of women are victims of abuse by men, 76% of women also agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife for at least one of the five above reasons (ICF International, 2014).
To show just how much violence is a gendered issue worldwide, the country with the highest reported prevalence of women perpetrating violence against men was Gabon, with 22-23%, less than half the amount of women who report being victims of abuse by men (46-47%). Of all the countries surveyed, only the Philippines showed a higher prevalence of women perpetrators of violence against men (15%) than women victims of violence by men (12%; ICF International, 2014).
Although the rates of violence against women have already begun to drop in many countries around the world, much more work still needs to be done to change both violent behaviours and attitudes towards violence.
Interestingly, a study by Jensen and Oster found that the introduction of cable TV in 21 rural areas of India between 2001 and 2003 led to quickly improved attitudes and behaviours around violence against women in comparison to areas that didn’t have cable yet. Little to no progress was found in regions without cable TV at the same time. This gives me hope that increasing awareness really can make a difference.
Violence in Australia
When the Australian Government brought out the ‘Violence Against Women – Australia Says No’ campaign in 2004 and 2005 it helped bring attention to an issue that before this was not spoken about enough:
It tried to educate people that violence against women was not okay, that it was a crime, and that it was not deserved or in any way the woman’s fault.
It aimed to inform that hitting and not obtaining sexual consent are both considered violence.
It encouraged women and men to speak up about violence against women, for males and females to intervene if they knew that it was taking place, and for women to seek help by calling the national hotline or speaking to a friend or to the police if they were victims of violence.
It also encouraged men to stop committing violence and seek help if they were perpetrators and to not adopt any violent behaviours towards women in the future if they had yet to do so.
Although the aims of the ‘Violence Against Women – Australia Says No’ campaign were important, the campaign was actually strongly criticised at the time, as it was developed hastily and simplistically, with minimal consultation with stakeholders and specialised domestic violence services, and had a very narrow focus on what violence entailed. My first reaction to the campaign when I saw it was:
‘why just women?‘
Having been a victim of both domestic and physical violence myself, and being told by the police that there was nothing that could be done about it, I found it encouraging that a campaign was trying to raise awareness towards putting a stop to violence. However, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t just ‘Violence – Australia Says No’. I get that worldwide violence is more prevalent against women but is this also the case in Australia?
I decided to investigate a little further…
In 2006, The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the 2005 Personal Safety Survey. In this, approximately 350,000 women were estimated to experience physical violence in Australia each year, and 125,000 women were determined to experience sexual abuse (ABS, 2006). Now, this number is far too high and definitely needs to be brought down through better awareness and education, prevention, increased reporting rates and stricter punishment for perpetrators.
What seems to be less well known is that approximately 775,000 men are also estimated to experience physical violence in Australia each year, and 45,000 men were estimated to suffer sexual abuse (ABS, 2006).
A more recent finding from the results of the 2009-2010 ABS Crime Victimisation Survey support these estimates of more violence being perpetrated against males in Australia, with 56.6% of all assault victims being male, and 43.4% being female (ABS, 2011).
If the Australian Government aims to stop violence in general, then I believe that gender needs to be taken out of the equation when looking at who the victims are. Men are just as likely, if not more, to be the victims of violence in Australia, and more needs to be done, such as the recent ‘One Punch Can Kill’ campaign to lower the impact that it has on our overall society.
Does Gender Play a Role Towards Violence in Australia?
Gender becomes essential when looking at who the majority of the perpetrators are. Males are much more likely to be the perpetrator of violence towards both men and women, especially in regards to sexual assaults, where approximately 93% of sex offences are committed by males (ABS, 2013-2014).
Obviously, something needs to be done on a societal level to change the hyper-masculine ideal that we have for males. This includes men generally not being aware of what they are feeling, not expressing what they feel unless it is anger because it is considered “weak”, disrespecting or objectifying women, and glorifying violence, aggression and retribution. I have already gone into detail about the consequences of raising boys to not cry, or sending them messages such as “be a man”, “don’t be a mummy’s boy”, and “never back down” in a previous article.
Gender is also crucial if we focus just on sexual assaults or intimate partner violence, rather than violence in general.
In regards to intimate partner violence, an estimated 114,600 females are impacted in Australia each year, of which 43,800 is from their current partner and 70,800 is from their former partner/s. This is in comparison to the estimated 27,900 males that are victims of intimate partner violence each year, of which 8,400 is from their current partner, and 19,500 is from their former partner (ABS, 2006).
With sexual assaults, one study showed that up to the age of 16, a similar rate of penetrative sexual abuse occurs towards females (7.9%) and males (7.5%). However, double the rate of non-penetrative sexual maltreatment occurs towards women (20.6% to 10.5%; Mamun et al., 2007). Another finding shows that women are over four times more likely to be a victim of sexual abuse (17%) than males (4%) once they are 15 years or older (ABS, 2012). Both children and women are therefore more at risk of sexual assaults than adult males, and something needs to be done about it.
The 2015 video using the metaphor of a cup of tea is a relatively non-threatening way to clearly explain what sexual consent is and isn’t:
Itsonus.org is a campaign that is also working towards stopping sexual assault, by raising awareness that one-in-five US women experiencing sexual assault by the time they finish college is way too high:
and that it is on us to do something about it:
A disheartening paper by Denise Lievore at the Australian Institute of Criminology highlights just how far we still have to go. Of all the sexual assaults that women report to survey interviewers in Australia:
- only 14.9% will report the crime to the police,
- only 30.52% of these reports will be recorded by the police,
- only 32.81% of the assaults that are registered will be proceeded against, and
- only 61.3% of the proceedings will result in a conviction (ABS, 2008-2009)
What this means is that less than 1% of the women in Australia who are willing to report to someone that they are a victim of sexual assault actually sees their persecutor convicted of the crime.
The acquittal rate of sexual assault defendants (20%) is also nearly three times higher than the acquittal rate of defendants of all other charges (7%; ABS, 2004). When it comes to sexual assault, the Australian legal system desperately needs to change too.
To summarise, in Australia:
- Gender (and/or sex) is not a good predictor of who will be a victim of violence in general
- Men are more likely to be the perpetrator of all types of violence, especially sexual assault
- Men are 2.2 times more likely to be the victim of physical violence
- Women are 2.8 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault
- Women are 4.1 times more likely to be the victim of intimate partner violence
Now that we are clear on the facts about the different types of violence and their relationship with gender, we really need to focus on why violence is still occurring at such high rates and how we can reduce the overall prevalence and impact that it has on individuals, families and our society.
Dr Damon Ashworth