The worldwide violence against women
and children

Domestic violence is a major human rights issue across the world, and one of New Zealand’s most serious social issues.

Domestic violence is a pervasive, life-threatening crime that impacts on thousands of New Zealanders with serious physical, psychological and economic effects.

Crime and injury statistics show how significant a problem domestic violence is in our country. It is one of the leading causes of injury and death to women, and also leads to short and long-term health problems such as mental illness, and problems with sexual and reproductive health.

Between 33 to 39% of New Zealand women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to a study by Janet Fanslow and Elizabeth Robinson1.

Dr Fanslow says the most worrying aspect is that intimate partner violence, even if it occurred in the past, is significantly associated with present physical and mental health problems including depression, sleep problems and suicide attempts.

The economic cost of domestic violence on the individual, family, community and country as a whole is considerable. For example, in 1996 economist Suzanne Snively estimated the cost of domestic violence in New Zealand to be between $1.2 and $5.8 billion per annum2. In today’s terms, that’s up to about $8 billion each year.

Women in violent relationships often have trouble holding down jobs or accessing enough money to feed their children or provide them with other necessities. These difficulties often compound when she leaves the relationship.

Domestic violence is a worldwide problem

The World Health Organization assessed the experience of violence in over 24,000 women across 10 countries3. It found:

  • Between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.
  • Many women said that their first sexual experience was not consensual (24% in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa).
  • Between four and 12% of women reported being physically abused during pregnancy.
  • Each year, about 5,000 women worldwide are murdered by their family members in the name of honour.
  • Forced marriages and child marriages violate the human rights of women and girls, yet they are widely practiced in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Worldwide, up to one in five women and one in 10 men report experiencing sexual abuse as children. Children subjected to sexual abuse are much more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.

Violence is never your fault – it’s the abuser's

There are many common myths about domestic violence – such as ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ – but female and child victims don't ‘ask for it’, and no one deserves to be abused. The responsibility for both the abuse and the personal changes needed to stop the behaviour lies firmly with the abuser.

Domestic violence is about a systematic pattern of coercive control punctuated by physical, sexual, emotional or financial violence that leaves the victim intimidated, hurt and fearful for her life, and the lives of her family. Learn more about this pattern of power and control, and the types of abuse.

Domestic violence is not limited to any demographic. It happens in rural and urban areas, within all age, religious and ethnic groups, and across all socio-economic groups. It can happen between people who are married, in de facto relationships or just dating. Domestic violence happens in same sex relationships, too.

The Domestic Violence Act 1995 legally protects anyone in a domestic relationship from violence: married couples; unmarried couples; gay and lesbian couples; children; family; anyone in a close relationship; and flatmates and others who may share accommodation from violence. There are other relevant laws also in place to protect your rights.

Sources:

1 Fanslow, J & Elizabeth Robinson, Violence against Women in New Zealand: Prevalence and health consequences New Zealand Medical Journal 117 (2004)
2 Snively, Suzanne, The New Zealand Economic Cost of Family Violence (1996)
3 World Health Organization, The Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women (2000–2003)