The prevalence of intimate partner violence toward women varies greatly across settings, according to a 15-site study conducted in 10 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand and Tanzania).1 The proportion of ever-partnered women who reported ever having experienced either sexual or physical violence, or both, ranged from 15% in a Japanese city to 71% in an Ethiopian province. Sexual violence tended to be less prevalent than physical violence, but in most sites, between 30% and 56% of ever-partnered women had experienced both kinds of partner violence. In most settings, violence against women was more commonly perpetrated by an intimate partner than by anyone else.

The data come from a representative, household-based sample of 24,097 women aged 15–49 (18–49 in Japan). Two sites (one large city and one provincial area) were selected in Bangladesh, Brazil, Peru, Thailand and Tanzania, while a rural setting was chosen in Ethiopia and a large city was used in Japan, Namibia, and Serbia and Montenegro; women were sampled in all areas of Samoa.

The researchers interviewed each woman to determine her lifetime and current (within 12 months of the interview) experience with physical and sexual intimate partner violence. Moderate physical violence was defined as being pushed or slapped, while severe physical violence was defined as having experienced at least one of the following acts: being hit with a fist, beaten up, kicked, choked, intentionally burned or attacked with a weapon. Women were also asked about their partners' controlling behaviors, such as those that restrict women's mobility, social contact and access to health care, and about violence by nonpartner perpetrators.

The average age among ever-partnered women (those who had ever been married or lived with a male partner) was between 30 and 36 for all study sites. The proportion of ever-partnered women who had received no education varied widely from none in urban Japan to 85% in rural Ethiopia; the proportion who had had any postsecondary education ranged from fewer than 2% in provincial sites in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Bangladesh to 61% in urban Japan.

In most study sites, the proportion of ever-partnered women who had ever experienced physical violence perpetrated by a male partner or ex-partner ranged from 13% in Japan to 61% in the Peruvian province, with most sites falling between 23% and 49%. The proportion of all ever-partnered women who had ever experienced severe physical violence was lowest in Japan (4%) and highest in the Peruvian province (49%). The proportion who had experienced any physical abuse in the past 12 months ranged from 3% (city sites in Japan and Serbia and Montenegro) to 29% (rural Ethiopia).

Ever having experienced sexual violence by a partner or ex-partner was reported by 6% (city sites in Japan and Serbia and Montenegro) to 59% (rural Ethiopia) of ever-partnered women; in most sites, the proportion fell between 10% and 50%. Similarly, the lowest prevalence of sexual violence in the past 12 months was reported in Japan and Serbia and Montenegro (1%), while the highest current prevalence was in rural Ethiopia (44%). In most other sites, prevalence lay between 9% and 24%. The overall prevalence of ever-partnered women who had experienced intimate partner violence—physical, sexual or both—ranged from 15% in Japan to 71% in rural Ethiopia, with most sites between 29% and 62%. In most settings, between 15% and 34% of women reported having experienced one or both types of violence in the previous year. Using a multivariate analysis, the researchers found that differences by site in the prevalence of either type of violence were not explained by variations in age, partnership status or educational attainment.

A bivariate analysis shows that the experience of male partners' controlling behavior e.g., keeping the respondent from seeing friends, restricting contact with her family of origin, insisting on knowing where she was at all times or expressing suspicions that she was unfaithful, was associated with the experience of violence in all sites. Among women who had ever experienced intimate partner violence, the proportion who had also experienced controlling behaviors ranged between 44% in Japan and 95% in urban Tanzania.

In nine of the 15 settings, the majority of women reported that intimate partners alone were the perpetrators of any physical or sexual violence they had experienced since age 15; women reporting that nonpartners or both nonpartners and partners had abused them were in the minority. Only in Samoa—where both partner and nonpartner violence prevalence rates were high—was the trend reversed: More than half of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence experienced it at the hands of nonpartners alone.

The researchers note that although slight variations in response rates and sampling techniques could have influenced the results, they are unlikely to account for the much lower prevalence of domestic violence found in industrialized areas (Japan and Serbia and Montenegro) than in less developed areas. The researchers state that the wide range of the findings "within and between settings highlights that this violence is not inevitable, and must be addressed" with further research on risk and protective factors for domestic violence and possible public health interventions at the individual and structural levels.—H. Ball


1. Garcia-Moreno C et al., Prevalence of intimate partner violence: findings from the WHO multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence, Lancet, 2006, 368(9543):1260–1269.