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Violence against women is a technical term used to collectively refer to violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women. Similar to a hate crime, this type of violence targets a specific group with the victim's gender as a primary motive. The United Nations General Assembly defines "violence against women" as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women noted that this violence could be perpetrated by assailants of either gender, family members and even the "State" itself.[1] Worldwide governments and organizations actively work to combat violence against women through a variety of programs. A UN resolution designated November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.[2]

History of violence against women

Some historians believe that the history of violence against women is tied to the history of women being viewed as property and a gender role assigned to be subservient to men and also other women.[3]

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”[4][5]

In the 1870s courts in the United States stopped recognizing the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife".[6] In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty" was removed in 1891.[7][8]

Impact on society

The World Health Organization reports that violence against women puts an undue burden on health care services with women who have suffered violence being more likely to need health services and at higher cost, compared to women who have not suffered violence.[9] Several studies have shown a link between poor treatment of women and international violence. These studies show that one of the best predictors of inter- and intranational violence is the maltreatment of women in the society.[10][11]

Types of violence

Domestic violence

Women are more likely to be victimized by someone that they are intimate with, commonly called "Intimate Partner Violence" or (IPV). The impact of domestic violence in the sphere of total violence against women can be understood through the example that 40-70% of murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.[12] Studies have shown that violence is not always perpetrated as a form of physical violence but can also be psychological and verbal.[13][14] In unmarried relationships this is commonly called dating violence, whereas in the context of marriage it is called domestic violence. Instances of IPV tend not to be reported to police and thus many experts believe that the true magnitude of the problem is hard to estimate.[15] In the US, in 2005, 1181 women, in comparison with 329 men, were killed by their intimate partners.[16][17]

Though this form of violence is often portrayed as an issue within the context of heterosexual relationships, it also occurs in lesbian relationships,[18] daughter-mother relationships, roommate relationships and other domestic relationships involving two women. Violence against women in lesbian relationships is about as common as violence against women in heterosexual relationships.[19]

Diagnosis planning

The American Psychiatric Association planning and research committees for the forthcoming DSM-5 (2013) have canvassed a series of new Relational disorders which include Marital Conflict Disorder Without Violence or Marital Abuse Disorder (Marital Conflict Disorder With Violence).[20] Couples with marital disorders sometimes come to clinical attention because the couple recognize long-standing dissatisfaction with their marriage and come to the clinician on their own initiative or are referred by an astute health care professional. Secondly, there is serious violence in the marriage which is -"usually the husband battering the wife".[21] In these cases the emergency room or a legal authority often is the first to notify the clinician. Most importantly, marital violence "is a major risk factor for serious injury and even death and women in violent marriages are at much greater risk of being seriously injured or killed (National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women 2000)."[22] The authors of this study add that "There is current considerable controversy over whether male-to-female marital violence is best regarded as a reflection of male psychopathology and control or whether there is an empirical base and clinical utility for conceptualizing these patterns as relational."[22]

Recommendations for clinicians making a diagnosis of Marital Relational Disorder should include the assessment of actual or "potential" male violence as regularly as they assess the potential for suicide in depressed patients. Further, "clinicians should not relax their vigilance after a battered wife leaves her husband, because some data suggest that the period immediately following a marital separation is the period of greatest risk for the women. Many men will stalk and batter their wives in an effort to get them to return or punish them for leaving. Initial assessments of the potential for violence in a marriage can be supplemented by standardized interviews and questionnaires, which have been reliable and valid aids in exploring marital violence more systematically."[22]

The authors conclude with what they call "very recent information"[23] on the course of violent marriages which suggests that "over time a husband's battering may abate somewhat, but perhaps because he has successfully intimidated his wife. The risk of violence remains strong in a marriage in which it has been a feature in the past. Thus, treatment is essential here; the clinician cannot just wait and watch."[23] The most urgent clinical priority is the protection of the wife because she is the one most frequently at risk, and clinicians must be aware that supporting assertiveness by a battered wife may lead to more beatings or even death.[23]

State violence

Labor camps

Many women underwent extrajudicial punishment in labor camps of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Their suffering was described in memories of former Gulag women prisoners Yevgenia Ginzburg, Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya and others.

War and militarism

Militarism produces special environments that allow for increased violence against women. For example, during World War II, the Japanese military established brothels for soldiers, exploiting women for the purpose of creating access and entitlement for men (see Comfort women). Another example of violence against women incited by militarism during war took place in the Kovno Ghetto. Jewish male prisoners had access to (and used) Jewish women forced into camp brothels by the Nazis, who also used them.[24] The 1998 United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda recognized rape as a war crime.

Violence in empowerment systems

When police officers misuse their power as agents of the state to physically and sexually harass and assault women, the survivors feel much less able to report the violence.[25] It is standard procedure for police to force entry into the victim's home even after the victim's numerous requests for them to go away.[26] Government agencies often disregard the victim's right to freedom of association with their perpetrator.[27] Shelter workers are often reduced themselves to contributing to violence against women by exploiting their vulnerability in exchange for a paying job.[28]


Many activists believe that working towards the elimination of domestic violence means working to eliminate a societal hierarchy enforced through sexism. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence cited racism within the anti-violence movement and suggest that violence against women will not end until the anti-violence movement re-directs its goal from "ending violence against women" to "ending violence against women of color."[29] The same conclusion can be drawn for other systems of oppression.

See also


  1. United Nations General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993)
  2. UN Resolution 54/134-International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
  3. Penelope Harvey & Peter Gow Sex and violence : issues in representation and experience (1994) pg 36 Routledge ISBN 0-415-05734-5
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. Calvert R (1974). "Criminal and civil liability in husband-wife assaults". In Steinmetz S, Straus M. Violence in the family. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 88–91.
  7. R. v. Jackson [1891]. 1 Q.B. 671
  8. Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1911. Article Corporal punishment
  9. WHO Factsheet Violence against women
  12. "Intimate Partner Violence". World Health Organization. 2002. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
  13. A Pourreza; A Batebi; A Moussavi (2004). "A Survey about Knowledge and Attitudes of People towards Violence against Women in Community Family Settings". Iranian Public Health Journal 33 (2): 33–37. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
  14. Violence & Victimization Research Division's Compendium Of Research On Violence Against Women 1993-2005 1998-WT-VX-0014 pg 35, 1999-WT-VX-0014 pg 59
  15. "Intimate Partner Violence: Overview". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-04.
  16. [3]
  17. [4]
  18. Girshick, Lori B., "No Sugar, No Spice: Reflections on Research on Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence." Violence Against Women Vol. 8 No. 12, December 2002, pgs. 1500-1520.
  19. Fact Sheet: Lesbian Partner Violence
  20. First, M.B., Bell, C.C., Cuthbert, B., Krystal, J.H., Malison, R., Offord, D.R., Riess, D., Shea, T., Widiger, T., Wisner, K.L., Personality Disorders and Relational Disorders, pp.164,166 Chapter 4 of Kupfer, D.J., First, M.B., & Regier, D.A. A Research Agenda For DSM-V. Published by American Psychiatric Association (2002)
  21. First, M.B., Bell, C.C., Cuthbert, B., Krystal, J.H., Malison, R., Offord, D.R., Riess, D., Shea, T., Widiger, T., Wisner, K.L., Personality Disorders and Relational Disorders, p.163, Chapter 4 of Kupfer, D.J., First, M.B., & Regier, D.A. A Research Agenda For DSM-V. Published by American Psychiatric Association (2002)
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 First, M.B., Bell, C.C., Cuthbert, B., Krystal, J.H., Malison, R., Offord, D.R., Riess, D., Shea, T., Widiger, T., Wisner, K.L., Personality Disorders and Relational Disorders, p.166, Chapter 4 of Kupfer, D.J., First, M.B., & Regier, D.A. A Research Agenda For DSM-V. Published by American Psychiatric Association (2002)
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 First, M.B., Bell, C.C., Cuthbert, B., Krystal, J.H., Malison, R., Offord, D.R., Riess, D., Shea, T., Widiger, T., Wisner, K.L., Personality Disorders and Relational Disorders, p.167,168 Chapter 4 of Kupfer, D.J., First, M.B., & Regier, D.A. A Research Agenda For DSM-V. Published by American Psychiatric Association (2002)
  24. Dworkin, Andrea: Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women's Liberation. pg. 316. Free Press, 2000. ISBN 0-684-83612-2
  25. "Covering 'Tainted Justice' And Winning A Pulitzer". Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, hosted by Terry Gross. Fresh Air. NPR. WHYY, Philedelphia. 3 May 2010.
  26. Professor Jeannie Suk, At Home in the Law: How the Domestic Violence Revolution Is Transforming Privacy, Yale University Press, 27 Oct 2009.
  27. Cheryl Hanna, "No Right to Choose: Mandated Victim Participation in Domestic Violence Prosecutions," Harvard Law Review, 1996, Vol. 109, pp.1850-1910.
  28. Koyama, Emi "Disloyal to feminism: Abuse of survivors within the domestic violence shelter system." in Smith A, Richie BE, Sudbury J, eds. The Color of Violence: INCITE! Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2006. ISBN 0-89608-762-X
  29. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence: Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology. pg 4. South End Press, 2006. ISBN 0-89608-762-X

External links

ar:العنف ضد المرأة ca:Violència contra les dones es:Violencia contra la mujer eu:Emakumeekiko indarkeria fa:خشونت علیه زنان fr:Violence contre les femmes it:Violenza di genere he:אלימות נגד נשים pt:Violência contra a mulher sk:Násilie voči ženám

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