The Trend of Violence Against Women and What Must Be Done to Stop It

More than one-third of women worldwide have been abused by partners, according to the World Health Organization’s first comprehensive study of available data on assaults against women.

The report found that the proportion of women reporting intimate partner violence and/or non-partner sexual violence varied according to world regions. As reported by The Guardian : “The highest levels of violence against women are in Africa, where nearly half of all women — 45.6% — will suffer physical or sexual violence. In low- and middle-income Europe, the proportion is 27.2%. Yet wealthier nations are not necessarily always safer for women – a third of women in high-income countries (32.7%) will experience violence at some stage in their life.”

The prevalence of intimate partner violence may seem high. Yet, in the wake of these staggering figures, it's important to note that many cases of physical and sexual violence against women continue to go unreported, and what’s more—there is an entire layer of non-physical violence (emotional, psychological, economic and reproductive abuse) that's omitted. These means oppressing women all reflect a larger issue of violence.

We need to reframe our cultural dialogue about the issue. The current attitude, particularly in Hollywood, is one of complacency. Cases against stars are met with an apathetic tsk tsk, or even humor. For example, in the case of pop star Chris Brown, close to 50 percent of Boston teens surveyed thought that Rihanna was actually responsible for the incident, as reported by NPR. Several Facebook pages have also made a jest of the incident, including one titled "What's my name-Clearly Chris Brown hit Rihanna so hard she forgot her name". Tasteful.

Perhaps worse than the blatant trivialization of these injustices is the larger undercurrent that argues women are to blame for attacks. Rape culture perpetuates the erroneous belief that women "ask for it" by dressing or conducting themselves in a certain way and that sexual assault cannot take place within relationships. This culture discourages women speaking out due to fear, shame, and the normalization of such violence. It's time to challenge this tide and attack the issue from all angles. Here's how:

1. On healthcare: As Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno at WHO told The Guardian , “When I was training in medical school, it wasn’t something you learned or knew about.” Given the magnitude of domestic violence and sexual assault, healthcare professionals not only need to be able to treat severe injuries but also respond to initial red flags.

2. On social systems: As reported by The Guardian , previous research reveals that better-educated women are less likely to suffer violence, as are those who have jobs, although not in all regions. So, persistent violence against women may partially be a systemic issue—a corollary of their financial vulnerability and dependence. By educationally and economically empowering women, we may stem the tide of violence. However, we're back to the point of the cultural atmosphere: a society’s belief of what is acceptable largely dictates the treatment of women. If emphasis on educational opportunities continues to teeter according to gender, and the disparity between men and women in the workforce is not bridged, the trend in violence can't shift.

3. On cultural attitudes: We need to tackle attitudes to violence head on. It is not sufficient to teach women to be aware of their surroundings. That old “don’t get raped” axiom is not only bullshit; it predicates on the notion that women are attacked by strangers. Most women are assaulted by someone they know, and our cultural teachings should reflect that. We also need to teach red flags and expand the definition of abuse instead of limiting it to physical assault. With respect to young men, we need to stress accountability rather than excusing assault-like behavior as “boys being boys”.

4. On a personal level: The judicial system needs to change the way it approaches assault—that's obvious. If victims can't count on the legal system, they should at least be able to count on the people around them. Yet as Glamour reported in their 2011 survey, as many as 37 percent of people don’t reach out to a friend or acquaintance if they suspect abuse. Silence is abetting. Speak up. With the help of the National Family Justice Center Alliance, Glamour collected helpful phrases from 50 interviewed survivors. You can access them here.

The trend of violence against women is sobering. It is a reminder that, as much publicity as the feminist movement has gained, there are still some issues that remain tacit. It's time to stop being mute about this. The violence is going on behind closed doors, whether we discuss it or not.