Violence against women has been the focus of international attention for more than twenty years. In 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It established that, according to international human rights law, “states have a duty to exercise due diligence to prevent, prosecute, and punish violence against women” (WHO, 2005).
Recognizing the need for research in the area of intimate partner violence, in 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) completed a ten-country population-based survey of 24,000 women called the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women. The WHO researchers asked participants a series of questions about physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors.
Overall, the proportion of women who had ever suffered physical violence by a male partner ranged from 13% in Japan to 61% in provincial Peru. Japan had the lowest level of sexual violence at 6%, while Ethiopia had the highest figure of 59%. The majority of settings were between 10% and 50% (WHO, 2005).
It is well known that violence perpetrated against women by an intimate partner is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior. The National Violence Against Women survey found that women whose partners were jealous, controlling, or verbally abusive were significantly more likely to report being raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by their partners, even when other sociodemographic and relationship characteristics were controlled.
Having a verbally abusive partner was the variable most likely to predict that a woman would be victimized by an intimate partner. These findings support the theory that violence perpetrated against women by an intimate partner is often part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).
Violence against women incorporates intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of violence against women such as physical violence committed by acquaintances or strangers (Saltzman, 2001). The victims are often emotionally involved and economically dependent upon the person victimizing them. In contrast, men are more likely to be victimized by someone outside their close circle of relationships (Heise & Garcia-Moreno, 2002).
Depending on the population, setting, or frequency of asking, between 0.9% and 20.1% of women in the United States reported they have experienced violence during pregnancy. Violence during pregnancy may be more common than some conditions for which pregnant women are routinely screened. As with screening for gestational diabetes, neural tube defects, preeclampsia, and behavioral risk factors such as smoking and alcohol use, screening for intimate partner violence should be incorporated into routine prenatal care (CDC, 2006).
Women who report violence around the time of pregnancy have reported higher prevalence of other demographic and psychosocial risk factors that also may have an effect on pregnancy. These include: