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WHO Says Domestic Violence Against Women is Widespread, Worldwide

A World Health Organization study reports domestic violence is widespread, and has serious implications for women's health. This study, for the first time, compares data gathered in developing, as well as developed countries. It finds violence operates similarly in rich and poor countries alike. Surveys were carried out in 10 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Peru, Namibia, Samoa, Serbia-Montenegro, Thailand and Tanzania.

The World Health Organization says the home is not a safe place for many women in this world. WHO surveyed 24,000 women of reproductive age in 10 countries. It concludes partner violence is the most common form of violence in women's lives. It says domestic violence is far greater than assaults or rape by strangers, acquaintances or any other perpetrators.

The study says women who suffer physical violence experience serious health consequences. Henriette Jansen, the epidemiologist on the report, says health problems include injury, emotional distress, suicidal thoughts and attempts and physical symptoms of illness.

"And, another finding that was very important, that pregnancy is also not a protected time in a woman's life," said Dr. Jansen. "Many women were also beaten in pregnancy, and up to a quarter to a half of those women got blows and kicks in their abdomen. So, miscarriages and abortions were a real consequence of violence."

The study says violence operates similarly in both the industrial and developing worlds. It is more prevalent in rural than in urban areas. The study says domestic violence is greatly underreported. It remains hidden, because women feel ashamed, and find it difficult to speak openly.

Dr. Jansen says it is very common for women who are beaten to believe they deserve it.

"Women in developing countries were, in general, more inclined to think that men had reasons that justified beating their wives. But, then, across all settings, developed and developing countries, we did find that women who were abused, had more of these normative beliefs that men were justified to beat women, than the women who did not report abuse," she added.

Dr. Jansen says, very few battered women seek help from formal services. They prefer to reach out to friends, neighbors and family members. But, she says, this usually turns out to be a bad move.

"It often happens that these relatives blame them, or tell them to stay in the relationship for the sake of the children, or to bear it because it is normal," she said. "And, in that case, it makes it even more difficult for them to then seek help from more official services."

Dr. Jansen says there is nothing normal or natural about violence.

The World Health Organization says violence is preventable, and violent behavior can be modified. It recommends support services for victims be strengthened, and that doctors and nurses be trained to recognize the tell-tale signs of women who are victims of abuse.