Male violence against women

The United Nations defines male 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 World Health Organization (WHO) defines male violence against women as a major health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. Numerous studies from organisations such as WHO and the World Bank have confirmed that physical, psychological and sexual violence against women and teen girls are one of the largest global health hazards for women and teen girls, with consequences such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and increased mortality.

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% of women in Europe have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse after the age of 15. This is equivalent to 62 billion women.

Violence against women, in whatever form it may take, has long been regarded as a private matter. This view has fundamentally changed in recent decades, and male violence against women is now recognised as a violation of human rights, a global social problem, and a serious public health problem. Male violence against women exists everywhere and occurs regardless of cultural and religious affiliation, ethnicity, sexuality, social class and age. Violence against women occurs both within the family and the home, and in public spaces. It is sometimes even practised or tolerated by the state.

The need for control and power is the ultimate driving force behind intimate partner violence. Male violence against women affects all parts of a woman’s or teen girl’s life, such as the possibility of independence and productivity, general state of health, and quality of life. Physical, mental, sexual and material abuse are used to control the victim’s behaviour and ability to take action. Through various forms of abuse, power is both expressed and achieved. The view of the abuser is, however, highly debated – what type of people are abusers?

A common denominator among abusers is that about 90 percent are men, which indicates that the abuse is strongly linked to gender and masculinity. Studies have shown that use of violence in a close relationship may be a means of strengthening the abuser’s sense of masculinity and forcing the victim to be submissive. During the act of violence, men may feel they embody typical “male” attributes like aggressiveness, strength and control. One way to increase understanding of what creates violent actions is to combine analysis of masculinity norms, social background, relationship problems with individual psychological explanation models.

Similar abuser/victim patterns are found in same-sex relationships. However, it is common for abuse in same-sex relationships to be trivialised, for example because women are not seen as potential abusers or because of beliefs that men should be able to defend themselves. Both men and women can manifest and maintain so-called male attributes and male superiority.