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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 14:37 GMT
Women 'face worst abuse at home'
File photograph of a woman's profile
Many women still do not talk about their abuse
A new international study of domestic violence says it is the most common form of violence against women.

The study by the World Health Organization surveyed 24,000 women in 10 countries, among them Japan and Brazil, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

It found that one in six women had suffered abuse, and that violence was more prevalent in poorer countries.

It also found that women in poorer countries were more likely to think the violence was justified.

Joy Phumaphi, assistant director-general of family and community health at the WHO, said governments needed to recognise domestic violence as a problem and pass tough laws against it.


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"What we want to accomplish is to take domestic violence out of the closet," she said.

The rates of women reporting having been victims of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime varied from 15% in Japan to 71% in Ethiopia.

Intimate partner violence, as the study calls it, is more common than assault or rape by strangers or acquaintances.

The percentage of woman who had been physically or sexually attacked by their partners in the preceding year was 4% in Japan and Serbia, compared with between 30% and 54% in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania.

Seven-year study

High rates of sexual abuse were "particularly alarming" in regards to the spread of HIV and Aids, the report said.

Society needs to develop total intolerance against domestic violence
Rustam Roy, London, UK

Countries in North America and Europe were not included in the seven-year study, as they had been the subject of previous studies.

Previous research found abuse rates of about 20% in the US and Canada, and 23% in Sweden.

Researcher Lori Heise said it was not clear what was behind the differences between richer and poorer countries, but many of the areas with higher rates were more rural, traditional communities where the problem had remained largely hidden.

Women there "have less power, and it is more common for men and women to believe that abuse is the norm - as the norms change, rates do down", she said.

Study co-ordinator Claudia Garcia Moreno found one thing in common everywhere - the violence was often severe.

"We're talking about being choked, being hit with the fists, being dragged, being burned and up to half of women in some sites reported physical injury," she said.

Serbia and Montenegro

Many women reported violent attacks by their partners during pregnancy.

Another big concern was the secrecy that continued to surround domestic violence - up to half of the women surveyed had never spoken of their situation to anyone.

Some said they did not report the violence because they considered it normal. Some women even said their husbands were justified in beating them.

More than three-quarters of women in urban areas in Brazil, Japan, Namibia and Serbia said there was no justification for domestic abuse, but the figure dropped to about one quarter in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Samoa.

The report also found that despite the variations in abuse rates, victims of physical or sexual abuse were twice as likely to suffer from ill-health than those who had not been abused.

"Women who have ever experienced violence in their life end up having much higher levels of all kinds of ill-health, like poor general health, like being suicidal, like having more miscarriages, more abortions, long after the violence happened," researcher Henriette Jansen said.

See the UN's conclusions on violence against women

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