Third of women suffer domestic violence, WHO study shows

LONDON (AP) - About a third of women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner, according to the first major review of violence against women.

In a series of papers released on Thursday by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others, experts estimated nearly 40 per cent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner and that being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women.

"Violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions," WHO director-general Margaret Chan said in a statement.

WHO defined physical violence as being slapped, pushed, punched, choked or being attacked with a weapon. Sexual violence was defined as being physically forced to have sex, having sex because you were afraid of what your partner might do and being compelled to do something sexual that was humiliating or degrading.

The report also examined rates of sexual violence against women by someone other than a partner and found about 7 per cent of women worldwide had previously been a victim.

In conjunction with the report, WHO issued guidelines for the authorities to spot problems earlier and said all health workers should be trained to recognise when women may be at risk and how to respond appropriately.

Globally, the WHO review found 30 per cent of women are affected by domestic or sexual violence by a partner. The report was based largely on studies from 1983 to 2010. According to the United Nations, more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.

The rate of domestic violence against women was highest in Africa, the Middle East and South-east Asia, where 37 per cent of women experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lifetime. The rate was 30 per cent in Latin and South America and 23 per cent in North America. In Europe and Asia, it was 25 per cent.

Some experts said screening for domestic violence should be added to all levels of health care, such as obstetric clinics.

"It's unlikely that someone would walk into an ER and disclose they've been assaulted," said Ms Sheila Sprague of McMaster University in Canada, who has researched domestic violence in women at orthopaedic clinics. She was not connected to the WHO report.

"Over time, if women are coming into a fracture clinic or a pre-natal clinic, they may tell you they are suffering abuse if you ask," she said.