The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, 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.” In a 2013 study conducted by the World Health Organization, 1 in 3, or 35%, of women have experienced such violence, most of which were by men. It has been shown that stereotypes that display women as weak and men as strong serve as an incentive for certain individuals to abuse those they believe are weaker than themselves. This root cause, as well as risk factors like lower levels of education, exposure to child abuse, and mental illness, impacts not only women, children, and the economy, but society as a whole.
Domestic and sexual abuse lead to major physical and mental health problems, involving even suicide and homicide--38% of all murders of women are committed by the women’s former or current partners. Additionally, women who have experienced violence are almost twice as likely to have depression, drinking problems, and other anxiety disorders. Sexual abuse may also lead to unwanted pregnancies and pregnancy problems, including higher risks of miscarriage and premature labor. Especially with childhood abuse, victims may experience increased drug misuse, malnutrition, and other physical and mental health problems. Further, experiencing abuse and growing up in distorted ideals may cause victims to experience more violence later in life or inflict abuse on others if they don’t receive help. In addition to the pain that victims experience, abuse strongly impacts society economically. The Center for Disease Control announced in 2012 that the total cost of child maltreatment amounted to $124 billion, or $210,000 per victim. The US News and Reports added that the financial costs of abuse include “treatment of physical injuries, future loss of productivity due to injuries, as well as lower levels of education and future income. Also, child abuse is associated with higher health costs in adulthood.” No child or adult should ever be a victim of abuse. We must all work toward eliminating domestic and sexual abuse not only for the economic and social gains, but for the well-being and happiness that all people deserve.
How exactly can we prevent violence? According to the United Nations, less than 40% of women who experience abuse seek help. Among those who do, less than 10% seek help from police and formal institutions. Improving the liability and access to professional help centers would reduce violence especially in more developed countries, according to studies. Providing education for both men and women about the negative influences of gender stereotypes, reducing access to alcohol and drugs, and advocating for equal rights have shown promise for less developed countries. Especially for vulnerable groups like migrants, women with disabilities, and indigenous women, offering free counseling, medical services and healthcare, and legal assistance will greatly increase the amount of women seeking help and reporting abusive individuals, as shown in countries like Bosnia and Macedonia. Of course, advocating against sexist systems and raising awareness will help implement lasting change. Acts like the #MeToo movement have prompted much-needed laws like the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, which protects workers from harassment and gender discrimination with required training, counseling, and more. We can also donate to or volunteer with organizations like Futures Without Violence and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to expand our support and assistance.
Women have been abused and taken advantage of for centuries. Modern society’s gender norms and unfair systems still promote inequality, abuse, and violence, and can only be changed through civilian efforts. If we all advocate, donate, and educate ourselves on this major human-rights issue, we can greatly reduce and, ideally, eliminate violence against women once and for all.