Violence against women is a problem around the world. It affects women of all races, ethnic groups, classes and nationalities. It is a life-threatening problem for individual women, and it is a costly problem for societies.
Because women are 'easy' victims, they experience a great deal of direct behavioural violence in every society. The use of violence against women as a form of control is not only pervasive, but varied in its expression. Such variations reflect social and cultural differences which have resulted in battering, rape, incest, foot binding, infibulation, clitoridectomy, dowry death, selective malnourishment, bridge burning, female infanticide, gang rape, forced prostitution, homicide, sexual harassment, international sexual trafficking and slavery, sexual degradation, child prostitution, violent pornography, child sexual abuse, abuse of widows and elderly women.
In much of the world, physical abuse of women is justified because any male-dominated culture tends to sanction it. Judicial leniency may even affect the prosecution of offenders, as in such countries as Brazil, especially where there is some question of male honour. Rape may be used deliberately, or tacitly, used as as a military policy (as in the case of the Serbs, or in Pakistan and Peru), especially with the establishment of so-called rape camps. Women may be kept in a state of debt bondage for purposes of prostitution, as in Thailand. Women may be subjected to mandated virginity tests (as in Turkey), forced sterilizations or abortions (as in China), genital mutilation (as in some 20 African countries), state-sanctioned discrimination (as in Poland, Saudi Arabia), or physical and sexual abuse by police during interrogation (as in Pakistan).
A 1993 study showed that one out of four Chilean women are subject to physical violence at home and that one out of three suffer psychological aggression. The law in Ecuador treats violence against women as a natural phenomenon rather than a crime, concerned more with the preservation of abstract concepts such as codes of family honour and public morality rather than women's bodily integrity or life. Every hour in the USA, sixteen women confront rapists; a woman is raped every six minutes. Three to four million women are battered each year; every eighteen seconds a woman is beaten. Three out of four women will be victims of at least one violent crime during their lifetimes. More than one million women seek medical assistance for injuries caused by battering each year. In Canada, one in four women can expect to be assaulted at some point in their lives, one half of these before the age of 17. In France, 95% of the victims of violence are women, 51% of them at the hands of their husbands.
One in three women in Belgium has suffered sexual mistreatment and physical violence is even more wide spread, according to a recent government report. Ninety-nine of the abusers are men and two-thirds came from the woman's personal circles, either relatives (fathers and brothers) or friends and acquaintances. Most of the women who had suffered sexual abuse had first been molested at puberty or adolescence. One in six had been sexually abused at the age of 12. In 40% of the cases, the abuse happened more than once and often on a regular basis.
In societies where the dowry prevails, dowry demands by husbands and their families result in bride burning, drowning and poisoning. It is more effective to have the wife incinerate, drown or poison herself than to have to do it for her. Wife-beating is less prevalent than rape. In times of war and civil rebellion women endure capture and torture not because they themselves are active in the fighting, but because they are the wives, mothers, or daughters of activists.