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The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project
Manuscripts and Online Data Base
Overview of Findings by the Authors

#14 Partner Abuse Worldwide

Esteban Eugenio Esquivel-Santoveña, Teri Lambert, and John Hamel
283 pages.
Full manuscript available in Partner Abuse Vol.4, Issue no.1 (2013), pp. 6-75)

In most of the world, research on partner abuse has lagged behind the United States.  Especially in Third World countries, attention has been on other problems (such as famine and war) and other crimes against women (e.g., honor killings, genital mutilation).

Purpose of Study and Method
The purpose of this study was twofold.  First, we conducted a sweeping review of scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed journals and by government agencies outside of the United States and English-speaking developed nations that provided quantitative data on physical, psychological and sexual abuse of intimate partners, as well as consequences, risk factors and attitudes.  Most of the studies reported on female victimization only, but 73 reported on both male and female victimization.  Secondly, we conducted an analysis of data from large community and national surveys, including from one multi-country study of dating violence, to determine the relationship between prevalence of abuse, social factors and women’s empowerment.

We sought to answer a few basic questions, as suggested by the body of research evidence, as well as current theories:

  1. What are the rates of physical, psychological and sexual abuse and controlling behaviors between intimate partners higher in countries outside of the United States and other English-speaking developed nations?
  2. How do these rates compare across gender?
  3. What is the impact of partner abuse on victims and families?
  4. What are the risk factors for partner abuse?
  5. On a societal level, what is the association between a country’s level of human development and rates of partner abuse?
  6. What is the association between the status of women and their rates of partner abuse victimization?
  7. On a relationship level, is dominance by one partner correlated with rates of partner violence against the other partner in the rest of the world, as it is in the United States?

Results of Literature Review
A total of 162 articles reporting on over 200 studies met the inclusion criteria and were summarized in the online tables for Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and the Caucasus.
Gender Inclusive Studies

Across all five world regions, we identified 40 articles (total of 73 studies) in 49 countries containing data on both male and female IPV.  The majority of the studies (44) reported on results based on dating student, adolescent or clinical samples; 29 of the studies were based on large population or community samples.

There were a total of 117 direct comparisons across gender for physical PV.  Rates of physical PV were higher for female perpetration /male victimization compared to male perpetration/female victimization, or were the same, in 73 of those comparisons, or 62%.  There were 54 comparisons made for psychological abuse including controlling behaviors and dominance, with higher rates found for female perpetration /male victimization, in 36 comparisons (67%).  Of the 19 direct comparisons were made for sexual PV, rates were found to be higher for female perpetration /male victimization in 7comparisons (37%).  Higher rates for any female perpetration /male victimization were found in only 2 of 8 comparisons (25%).  In total, there were 198 direct comparisons across gender, for all types of partner abuse.  The rates were higher for female perpetration /male victimization, or the same, in 118 comparisons, or 60%.  A higher number of comparisons indicating greater female victimization/ male perpetration was found in 18 countries.  Greater female perpetration/male victimization was found in 23 countries, and an equal number of comparisons was found in 8 countries.

Given that several of the IDVS studies were based on very small samples, the limitations of clinical samples, and the superiority of more representative community and large population samples, we also looked separately at the 44 large population and community samples that reported on adult, non-student abuse.  Together, these yielded 81 direct comparisons across gender.  The percentage of partner abuse that was higher for female perpetration /male victimization compared to male perpetration/female victimization, or were the same, were as follows:  Physical abuse – 22/44 (50%); Psychological abuse/control/ dominance – 10/19  (53%); Sexual abuse – 4/13 (31%);  Any abuse – 0/5 (0%).  The overall percentage was 44% for adult IPV. However, it should be noted that in many comparisons, the differences were slight. For example, past year physical victimization rates in Namibia were 15% for men and 17% for women; lifetime physical abuse perpetration in South Africa was reported at 26.5% for men and 25.2% for women; and in Portugal wives reported insulting and humiliating partners at a rate of 16.2% compared to husbands at 18.6%).  When these close percentages are taken into account, then the overall percentage of adult IPV that is symmetrical – comparable across gender, or higher in the direction of male victimization/female perpetration – constitutes the majority of IPV throughout the world.  In 11 countries women were found to be predominantly victims and males were found to be primarily perpetrators.  There were 14 countries in which rates of partner abuse from larger populations were found to be symmetrical across gender:  China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad/Tobago, Portugal and Ukraine.
Emerging research

The International Parenting Study (IPS), conducted by consortium of researchers with a total sample of 11,408 university students in 15 countries (mostly Europe, but also the U.S. and Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Israel.)  The students reporting on physical assaults between their parents when they were 10 years old.  Preliminary results indicate that fathers assault mothers at a rate ranging from 0.3% in Norway to 9.9% in Slovenia, with a median rate of 3.8%; and mothers assault fathers at an overall higher rate (median = 8%), and ranging from 1.7% (Spain) to 24.9% (Poland).  However, the mean number of parental assaults was found to be higher for fathers.
Studies Reporting only Female IPV Victimization

Across the major regions of the world the lowest reported past year rates for physical abuse victimization reported in the female victimization-only studies were found in a large population study in Georgia (2%) and a community survey in Japan (3.1%).  Lifetime rates were lowest again in Georgia (5%), and in a community survey in Nigeria (5.3%).  The highest rates of physical IPV victimization were found in a community survey in Ethiopia (72.5% past year) and among a rural population in Bangladesh (67% lifetime).  On the higher end, rates of physical PV far exceed the average found in the United States.

The lowest rates of past year psychological victimization were found in large population studies in Haiti (10.8%) and India (12%); lifetime rates were lowest again in Haiti (13.2%), as well as in large population studies in Columbia (11.5%) and Georgia (19%).  The highest past year psychological abuse prevalence was 98.7% in Bangkok, Thailand (past year), and lifetime rates were the highest in a clinical population in Iran (82.6%) and in a Brazilian slum (80.2%).  Unlike physical IPV, the highest rates of psychological abuse throughout the world are about the same as those found in the United States (80%).

Rates of sexual abuse victimization differed widely across regions, with past year rates as low as 1% in Georgia (large population) and 1.3% in Japan (urban community), and lifetime rates of 0.6% in Egypt (large population), 1% found in (large population) and 1.1% in Honduras (large population).  In contrast, the rates for the past year were as high as 53.4% in Pakistan (community survey) and 58% in Ethiopia (large population).  In Pakistan, lifetime rates were found to be 54.5% in a community survey, and the highest rates of all were found in a study of secondary school students in Ethiopia, at an astounding 68%.
Impact on victims

The various regions reported similar kinds of consequences for victims who have experienced IPV.  Surprisingly, a relatively small number of studies focused on the physical consequences of partner violence.  Those that did either did not specify the types of injuries, or identified bruises and broken bones.  Physical injuries were compared across gender in two studies.  As expected, abused women were found to experience higher rates of physical injuries compared to men both for the past year in a Chilean student population (15.9% vs. 6.98%) and since age 14 (19.5% vs. 13.3%), and in a large population study from Uganda (43% vs. 33%.)   Far more frequently mentioned were the psychological and behavioral effects of abuse, and these included PTSD symptomology, stress, depression, irritability, feelings of shame and guilt, poor self-esteem, flashbacks, sexual dissatisfaction and unwanted sexual behavior, changes in eating behavior, and aggression.  Two studies compared mental health symptoms across gender.  In Botswana, women were found to evidence significantly more of these than men; whereas in a clinical study in Pakistan male and female IPV victims suffered equally (60% of men and women reported depression, 67% anxiety.)

A variety of health-related outcomes were also found to be associated with IPV victimization, including overall poor physical health, more long-term illnesses, having to take a larger number of prescribed drugs, STDs, and disturbed sleeping patterns.  Abused mothers experienced poorer reproductive health, respiratory infections, induced abortion and complications during pregnancy; and in a few studies their children were found to experience diarrhea, fever and prolonged coughing.
Risk factors

The most common risk factors found in this review of IPV in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe have also been found to be significant risk factors in the U.S. and other English-speaking industrialized nations.  Most often cited are the risk factors related to low income household income and victim/perpetrator unemployment, at 36.  An almost equally high number of studies (35) reported victim’s low education level.  Alcohol and substance abuse by the perpetrator was a risk factor in 26 studies.  Family of origin abuse, whether directly experienced or witnessed, was cited in 18 studies.  Victim’s younger age was also a major risk factor, mentioned in 17 studies, and perpetrator’s low education level was mentioned in 16.  Less frequently mentioned were victim’s substance abuse (8 studies), victim living in a rural environment (5 studies), and victim having married at a younger age and being HIV positive (4 studies each).
Attitudes about IPV

By 1994 approval in the U.S. of a husband slapping his wife for any reason was endorsed by only 10% of the population.  In contrast, there is a much higher tolerance by both men and women for IPV in other parts of the world, with rates of approval depending on the country and the type of justification.  Between 28% and 41% of men agreed that it is sometimes necessary for a man to beat his wife, and in Nigeria a remarkable 79% of women said that wife-beating is sometimes justified.  Reasons given for why violence against wives might be justified include her infidelity, refusing him sex, arguing, burning his food, leaving without his permission and wasting money.  Given the high rates of female-to-male abuse found in this review, it is noteworthy that none of the studies asked respondents about their views on husband-beating.  Nonetheless, perpetrator pro-violent and gender-based beliefs are a serious problem, identified risk factors in 12 studies (mostly in Africa and Asia).
Results of Data Analysis

Regression analyses indicated that a country’s level of human development (as measured by HDI)  was not a significant predictor of male or female physical partner abuse perpetration, neither in studies using general population/large community samples nor in studies conducted with dating samples. Similarly, regression analyses did not find HDI level to be a significant predictor of female partner abuse victimization in studies that used population or large community samples.

Additional regression analyses indicated that a nation’s gender inequality level, as measured by the Gender Inequality Index (GII), was not predictive of either male or female perpetrated physical partner abuse or female-only victimization in studies conducted with general population or community samples. However, separate regression analyses on data from the IDVS with dating samples indicate that higher gender inequality levels significantly predict higher prevalence of male and female physical partner abuse perpetration. GII level explained the variance for 17% of male partner abuse and 19% of female partner abuse perpetration.

A final analysis examined the association between dominance by one partner and partner violence perpetrated against a partner in dating samples using data from the IDVS, because this was the only multi-country study to consistently provide data for men and women on dominance scores. Male dominance scores were not found to be predictive of male partner violence perpetration; however, female dominance scores were found to significantly predict scores of partner violence perpetration by women. Female dominance scores explained 47% of the variance of female partner violence perpetration.

Results of this review suggest that partner abuse can no longer be conceived as merely a
gender problem, but also (and perhaps primarily) as a human and relational problem, and should be framed as such by everyone concerned.


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