The incidence of sexual violence in India and Bangladesh are among the lowest in the world. It is, not surprisingly, the bloodiest in central sub-Saharan Africa.
Worldwide, one in 14 women (7.2 per cent) aged 15 years or older report being sexually assaulted by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lives, according to findings published in 'The Lancet' that looked at the prevalence of non-partner sexual violence in 56 countries. The researchers have described their findings as a pressing health and human rights concern.
Non-partner sexual violence is perpetrated by people such as strangers, acquaintances, friends, colleagues, peers, teachers, neighbours, and family members other than a partner.
The researchers wrote, "Findings indicated that rapes by strangers are more violent and have higher risk of involvement of weapons and injury than those by known perpetrators, but with the latter the betrayal of trust might greatly affect post-assault outcomes, including psychological functioning."
The estimates suggest that the global picture varies drastically. Countries with the highest rates of sexual violence are those in central sub-Saharan Africa (21 per cent; Democratic Republic of Congo), southern sub-Saharan Africa (17.4 per cent; Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe), and Australasia (16.4 per cent; New Zealand and Australia). Countries in North Africa/ Middle East (4.5 per cent; Turkey) and south Asia (3.3 per cent; India, Bangladesh) reported the lowest rates.
Researchers meticulously went through studies published in the 1998–2011 period containing data on the global prevalence of women’s reported experiences of such sexual violence. Naeemah Abrahams from the South African Medical Research Council in Cape Town, and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the World Health Organization (WHO), identified 7231 suitable studies and shortlisted 77 of them, compiling data on 412 estimates of violence from 56 countries.
Within Europe, countries in eastern Europe (6.9 per cent; Lithuania, Ukraine, Azerbaijan) had a much lower prevalence of sexual assault than central (10.7 per cent; Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo) and western regions (11.5 per cent; Switzerland, Spain, Isle of Man, Sweden, UK, Denmark, Finland, Germany).
The findings come with a word of caution from Abrahams, “Regional variations need to be interpreted with caution because of differences in data availability and levels of disclosure.” The researchers have argued that the data probably underestimates the true magnitude of the issue because of the stigma and blame attached to sexual violence that leads to under-reporting and a lack of good-quality population-based data.
According to Abrahams, “Our findings highlight the need for countries to have their own population-based data on the levels of sexual violence by different perpetrators to improve understanding of the magnitude of the problem and the main risk factors, and to develop appropriate policies and responses, including primary prevention interventions and comprehensive services to treat victims of sexual assaults.”
In a linked comment to the study, Kathryn Yount from Emory University, Atlanta, US, wrote, “The major contribution of this study is its comprehensive inclusion of data to derive best worldwide estimates. The estimated prevalence is unacceptably high on public health and human rights grounds and, hopefully, will spur timely and systematic discussions about the use of standard definitions and improved research tools and data collection methods to improve disclosure of a highly stigmatised violation.”