How common is male violence against women?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines male violence against women as a major health problem and violation of women’s human rights. An increasing number of studies from organisations such as WHO and the World Bank confirm that physical, sexual and psychological violence against women and teen girls is one of the major global health hazards for women, with consequences such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and increased mortality. A review of studies from several Western countries showed that 25–30 percent of all women have experienced violence from a partner at some point in their life and that 2–12 percent suffer annually.

In a report from 2005, WHO estimates that 30 to 60 percent of all women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. In a compilation of research from 2013, WHO estimates that 35 percent of the world’s women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner and/or sexual violence by a person other than a partner. According to WHO, 20 percent of all women and 5–10 percent of all men worldwide have been sexually abused as children.

The National Board of Health and Welfare estimates that 75,000 women in Sweden are subjected to some form of partner violence each year. Swedish studies of male violence against a female partner show that 1–3 percent of all women have been subjected to physical violence by their current or a previous partner within the past year. If you include psychological and sexual violence, the number of women affected per year is even higher.

Slagen DamSlagen Dam [Battered Woman], published in 2001, is the first large national study conducted in Sweden to examine the extent of male violence against women. An extensive survey comprising 350 questions was sent to 10,000 women in Sweden. The response rate was 70 percent. The study shows a high lifetime prevalence of violence against women. Lifetime prevalence refers to the proportion who have been subjected to violence at some point in life after the age of 15.

The study showed that 46 percent of the women experienced violence by some man after their 15th birthday. The survey also showed that 35 percent of the women experienced violence from a former spouse or cohabitee, and that 11 percent had experienced violence from a current spouse or cohabitee.

Of the 35 percent who experienced violence from a former spouse or cohabitee, 28 percent had experienced physical violence, 16 percent experienced sexual violence, and 19 percent had experienced threats. One out of four women had been called derogatory terms by a former spouse or cohabitee. It is easier to see the violence after leaving the relationship, which can be one of the reasons that women report more about previous violence than ongoing exposure to violence. The study also shows that 30 percent of the women were subjected to violence by a man outside of a relationship, with half of the violence being sexual. 13 percent of the women in the study had experienced serious sexual violence by a man outside of a relationship.

Later surveys, both in Sweden and globally, show figures similar to “Slagen Dam”. In a report from 2005, WHO estimates that 30 to 60 percent of all women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. The most extensive EU-level study to date on women’s experiences of violence was published in 2014. 42,000 women from 28 countries in Europe were interviewed “face to face”. The report shows that 33 percent of women in Europe have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse after the age of 15. This is equivalent to 62 billion women.


The study “Våld och hälsa – En befolkningsundersökning om kvinnors och mäns våldsutsatthet samt kopplingen till hälsa” [Violence and health – A population study of women’s and men’s exposure to violence and the link to health] shows that one out of five women in Sweden have been the victim of serious sexual violence at some point in their life.

The study defined serious violence as follows:

“That as a child a person was forced to have sexual intercourse (including attempts) at some time and/or was the victim of other sexual assault repeatedly and/or was sometimes/often struck with a fist, injured with a weapon or the like, and/or was often the victim of other physical violence, and/or was often threatened with physical violence and/or was often called names, bullied, etc., and/or had repeatedly seen or heard violence between their parents. That as an adult a person has been forced to have intercourse or the like (including attempts) and/or was struck with a fist/object/kicked or was the victim of violence with a weapon, and/or was systematically and repeatedly subjected to psychological violence.”

Two percent of the women and half a percent of the men had been subjected to some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18 (including being fondled in a sexual way or the like) by their father, stepfather or mother’s cohabitee/significant other.

About one out of ten women and one out a hundred men had after the age of 18 been subjected to serious sexual violence in the form of physical violence or threat of physical violence, forced sexual intercourse or the like, including attempts and including sexual assault when the victim was not in a condition where they could defend themselves.


The study “Våldsamt lika och olika – Om våld i samkönade relationer” [Fiercely the same yet different – About violence in same-sex relationships] shows that one quarter of those surveyed had experienced some form of psychological, sexual or physical violence in a current or previous relationship. However, not all of the violence reported in the study was carried out in a same-sex relationship, since the study also included reported violence in previous relationships that were not same-sex.

A 2009 survey of high school students showed that 58 percent of the girls and 15 percent of the boys had experienced some type of sexual abuse (such as pawing, sexual and unwelcome touching, or verbal abuse online). The same study showed that 13.5 percent of the girls and 5.5 percent of the boys had experienced serious abuse, often repeatedly. 10 percent of all children in Sweden have experienced violence by or against a loved one in the home. 5 percent experience violence in the home often. About half of them develop serious permanent disability (Child Abuse Prevention Committee (Kommittén mot barnmisshandel) SOU 2001:72/ATV Norway). Many children who experience violence against an adult in the home are also the victim of direct violence, other abuse or neglect.

According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, a rough estimate is that only 20–25 percent of violent crimes against women are reported to the police. Under-reporting is greater for intimate partner violence and in private settings without insight. Under-reporting is also greater for crimes perceived as particularly shameful, such as intimate partner violence, sexual assaults and child abuse.