Research on Domestic Violence Around the World

Domestic Violence Around the World

In November 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the publication of the results of a seminal study concerning the prevalence of domestic violence in 10 different countries, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, and the United Republic of Tanzania. The WHO study was conducted in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), an international nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington and national research institutions and women’s organizations in the participating countries. The WHO study was truly ambitious in scope and was based on interviews with more than 24,000 women from both urban and rural regions of these 10 countries. Not surprisingly, the WHO researchers found that domestic violence has an enormous effect on the health of the domestic violence victims who were involved, and these behaviors had long-term healthcare consequences that frequently continued long after the violence ended. To gain some further insights into the implications of domestic violence around the world, this paper provides a review and summary of the WHO study, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Although it is reasonable to suggest that most people realize that domestic violence has some serious implications for the victims who are involved, some people may fail to realize the full extent of the problem or how these types of behaviors can actually affect the women and children of the families that are affected by domestic violence. The press release from WHO emphasized that, “The first-ever [WHO] study on domestic violence reveals that intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence in women’s lives – much more so than assault or rape by strangers or acquaintances” (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006, para. 1). Although domestic violence is not restricted to male-on-female assaults, the entire WHO study was restricted to this type of domestic violence in the 10 different countries studied, and the researchers confirmed the staggering impact that sexual and physical violence has on women in these countries.

Moreover, despite the enormous impact on women’s health care well-being resulting from such violence that was identified by the WHO study, the researchers also emphasized that current estimates of domestic violence may be underrated because such domestic violence remains underreported and hidden away in many countries of the world (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006). In this regard, the press release emphasized that, “For policy makers, the greatest challenge is that abuse remains hidden. At least 20% of women reporting physical violence in the study had never told anyone before being interviewed” (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006, para. 4). Furthermore, the WHO study found that despite the potentially life-threatening aspects of such physical violence, it was rare for victimized women to seek professional help for their healthcare needs, relying instead on family members and friends, with only the most severely abused being most likely to seek professional assistance (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006).

The World Health Organization’s director-general, Dr. Lee Jong-wook, noted that WHO researchers also determined that women in the countries studied were at far higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their intimate male partners than from strangers, and characterized the implications for women’s health in these countries as follows: “This study shows that women are more at risk from violence at home than in the street and this has serious repercussions for women’s health. The study also shows how important it is to shine a spotlight on domestic violence globally and treat it as a major public health issue” (quoted in Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006, para. 2).

Some of the study’s key findings reveal the troubling extent of the problem, with between 25% and 50% of the study’s subjects having experienced physical injuries as a direct result of being physically assaulted by their male partners (physical violence was determined by the WHO researchers by asking respondents whether a current or former partner had ever slapped them, thrown something at them that could hurt them; pushed or shoved them; hit them with a fist or something else that could hurt; kicked, dragged or beaten them up; choked or burnt them on purpose; threatened them with, or actually used a gun, knife or other weapon against them) (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006). The 25%-50% of the women who reported experiencing physical domestic violence were also twice as likely to experience poor health together with mental and other related physical problems (including suicide ideation and attempts, mental distress, and physical manifestations such as pain, dizziness and vaginal discharge) as a result, even in those situations where such domestic violence ceased several years before (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006).

Notwithstanding any sociocultural differences between the study’s 24,000 respondents to the contrary, the WHO researchers found that, across the board, there were consistent similarities among the effects of domestic violence on the women who participated in the study. For instance, the press release from WHO includes an observation from a member of the core research team for the study, Dr. Charlotte Watt of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who advised, “The degree to which the health consequences of partner violence in the WHO study are consistent across sites, both within and between countries, is striking. Partner violence appears to have a similar impact on women’s health and well-being regardless of where she lives, the prevalence of violence in her setting, or her cultural or economic background” (quoted in Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006, para. 3).

The WHO study’s findings also confirmed much of the research to date concerning the adverse effects of domestic violence on female sexual and reproductive health and exacerbation of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The WHO study found that women who lived in sexually or physically abusive relationships were less likely to have a partner who agreed to use a condom, more likely to have undergone at least one induced abortion, and they were more likely to have male partners who maintained multiple sexual partners compared to their non-abused counterparts who did not report any domestic violence (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006).

In contrast to physical violence where there were weapons and/or fear of force used, the WHO study defined sexual violence as being any of the following three behaviours: (a) being physically forced to have a sexual intercourse against their will; (b) having sexual intercourse because they were afraid of what their partner might do; (c) being forced to do something sexual they found degrading or humiliating (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006, para. 3). This type of domestic violence was particularly disturbing as it applied to pregnant women. For instance, the WHO study found that in a majority of the countries studied, between 4% and 12% of women reported being physically beaten while they were pregnant, with the vast majority (90%) of these citing the father of the child as the perpetrator and between 25% and 50% of these women had actually been kicked or punched in the abdomen during their pregnancies (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2006).

Some representative quotes from women who were interviewed for the WHO study include the following:

1. I suffered for a long time and swallowed all my pain. That’s why I am constantly visiting doctors and using medicines. No one should do this. — Woman interviewed in Serbia and Montenegro.

2. He got this gun, I don’t know from who… And he would tell the girls: ‘I’m going to kill your mother… The day will break and your mother will be dead right here…’ I would sleep in a locked bedroom and with a dog inside the room with me. My dog. So he would not kill me. — Woman interviewed in Brazil.

3. He hit me in the belly and made me miscarry two babies – identical or fraternal twins, I don’t know. I went to the Loayza hospital with heavy bleeding and they cleaned me up. — Woman interviewed in urban Peru.


The research showed that in November 2005, the World Health Organization announced the release of a study regarding domestic violence in 10 different countries that was conducted in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, PATH and national research institutions and women’s organizations in the participating countries. The WHO study was included interviews with more than 24,000 women from urban and rural regions. The research also showed that the WHO study identified similar adverse healthcare outcomes for the women in the study. Between 25%-50% of the women participating in the WHO study reported experiencing physical domestic violence and between 4% and 12% of women reported being physically beaten even while they were pregnant. Finally, the results of the WHO study highlighted the hidden nature of the problem in the countries studied, indicating that the problem may be far worse than even these disturbing statistics indicate.


Landmark study on domestic violence. (2006, November 24). World Health Organization.

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