Devries team sought studies that assessed the prevalence of violence across entire countries or large regions within them. They also performed or requested additional analyses of four large international surveys. In total, their estimates were based on data from 141 studies in 81 countries, with 80% of the estimates based on what are considered gold-standard methods — private one-on-one interviews in which women are asked about specific acts of violence, including slaps, kicks, use of weapons and rape over their lifetime.
Studies were adjusted for differences in design and methodological quality. The highest rates of partner violence, estimated between 54% and 78%, were found in central sub-Saharan Africa, but even high-income regions in Asia, North America and western Europe had rates above 15%. These jump considerably when sexual non-partner violence is factored in.
The studies still have gaps. For example, data about partner violence from central sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and southern Latin America, and for women over 49, were scarce. In addition, the studies did not assess emotional violence, and though estimates did not consider partners’ gender, most research studies solicited information only on male partners. In addition, many homicide reports do not include information about perpetrators’ relationships to their victims.
Nonetheless, the data that have been pulled together will enable researchers to conduct cross-country and regional comparisons and help generate hypotheses about how social conditions and policies may influence prevalence, says Victoria Frye, a social epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York. “We really did not have that capacity previously.”
And by establishing baseline figures for violence, governments and social researchers are better placed to develop and assess interventions, says Jewkes. “I want to see us in a situation where we are tracking the global decline of women being hit by partners and experiencing rape.”