February 18 2020
‘3.3% of women in South Asia face non-partner sexual violence’
11 February 2014

Just over 7% of women globally and 3% in South Asia have experienced sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner, a new global study finds.

Both globally and in South Asia alone, rape by an intimate partner or member of the household is far more common than that by a stranger, the researchers found.

In a study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, and released early Wednesday morning, researchers Naeemah Abrahams, Karen Devries, Charlotte Watts, Christina Pallitto, Max Petzold, Simukai Shamu and Claudia GarcÍa-Moreno examined studies between 1998 and 2011 to construct a globally comparable dataset of women who had experienced non-partner sexual violence.

After adjusting for variations in the type of question and methodology, they found that rates of prevalence varied widely by region, from 3.3% in South Asia (India and Bangladesh) to 21% in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, one out of 14 women over the age of 15 reported having experienced non-partner sexual violence.

In comparison, sexual violence at the hands of a partner or household member measured as part of the same study and released in September last year (‘One in four men across Asia admits to committing rape’, The Hindu, September 11, 2013) was far more prevalent. The global prevalence of intimate partner violence, that study found, was 30%.

Yet, media and public attention globally is typically focussed on non-partner sexual violence. This was likely the case “because the perpetrator is a stranger and [the] victim is less blamed and shamed if she reports it, while intimate partner violence is considered a private matter therefore not likely to be reported to services and in the media,” the report’s lead author, Prof. Naeemah Abrahams of the South African Medical Research Council, said in an email to The Hindu. This was however changing, she added.

The data on India in particular and South Asia in general, however, is not without problems. The low level of reported non-partner sexual assault could be due to a number of reasons, the report’s lead author, Prof. Abrahams said. “Firstly data from this region was very limited – from 2 countries,” and only Bangladesh’s was “based on a dedicated violence against women study and the data from India was not”, Prof. Abrahams said. It was a concern that a robust population study has not been done in India, she added.

“We found that if violence questions are added to other larger studies the level of disclosure is not very good on such sensitive issues,” she said, adding that it was likely that women from this region do not disclose violence in research studies because of “stigma and shame”.

Despite this, the numbers in the Lancet study are far higher than those that emerge from India’s National Crime Records Bureau. In 2012, the prevalence of all types of reported sexual assault (in cases where it was the principal offence) according to the NCRB was 0.0043%. In nearly 98% of these cases, the alleged perpetrator was a relative of acquaintance.

Women’s rights organisations in India have long been asking that a victimisation survey be added to India’s official crime data collection system, as is done in countries like the United Kingdom.



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