One in 3 women worldwide is a victim of physical or sexual violence, resulting in a global health epidemic, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.

Most of these females are attacked or abused by their boyfriends or husbands. “This is an everyday reality for many, many women,” Charlotte Watts, author of the report and a health policy expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said to Reuters.

Nearly 38% of all women murder victims were killed by intimate partners, according to the report, which was co-authored by Watts and Claudia Garcia-Moreno of the WHO.

Forty-two percent of females who have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner suffer injuries, the authors explained.

Common health issues they experience include:

  • bruises
  • broken bones
  • depression
  • pregnancy complications
  • mental illnesses

A recent report showed that 1 in 6 women arriving at orthopedic fracture clinics has been a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner within the past year.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, said:

“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions. We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”

The experts found that violence against women is responsible for a variety of acute and chronic health issues. These health problems range from immediate injury to sexually transmitted infections, to HIV, to stress and depression- and alcohol-associated health conditions.

Women who experience violence from their partners have a 1.5 times higher likelihood of getting:

In certain areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, female victims have a 1.5 times increased probability to become infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS.

A recent report indicated that the HIV/AIDS pandemic can only be addressed effectively if we manage to end violence against women.

“This new data shows that violence against women is extremely common. We urgently need to invest in prevention to address the underlying causes of this global women’s health problem,” Watts said.

Garcia-Moreno added:

“The report findings show that violence greatly increases women’s vulnerability to a range of short- and long-term health problems; it highlights the need for the health sector to take violence against women more seriously. In many cases this is because health workers simply do not know how to respond.”

The WHO has issued guidelines to help health workers understand how to help women suffering domestic or sexual abuse.

The experts emphasize the importance of training all levels of health workers to be able to identify when patients may be at risk of partner violence and to know how to provide a proper response.

Written by Sarah Glynn