In the first-ever global picture of sexual violence, the respected British medical journal The Lancet found that, worldwide, 7.2 percent of women at least 15 years old have suffered sexual violence from a stranger. The report compiled previous research conducted from 1998 to 2011 in 56 countries to detail a very grim picture of the high prevalence of sexual assault on women around the world.
The study of sexual violence against women across the globe shows that the reports of rapes on the front pages are not exaggerations or isolated incidents. Sexual assault is a daily reality that occurs at an unacceptably high rate.
The report focused exclusively on sexual assaults from strangers. Had the report also included sexual violence from partners, the numbers would have increased considerably.
In past research, intimate partner violence has occurred at much higher rates. The study also did not separately examine attacks on women from 15 to 18. Assaults on women in that age group should be considered child sexual abuse and deserve special attention.
The Lancet’s systematic review of research found significant variations in different areas. The rates of assault were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, at 21 percent, and in the south of Africa, at 17.4 percent. Australia and New Zealand had a rate of 16.4 percent, and North America, 13 percent — all significantly higher than the global average of 7.2 percent.
Japan’s rate was 12.2 to 16.7 percent, depending on how the surveys are weighted in the final comparative analysis. Past research shows that Japan’s rate was lower for partner-related sexual violence than in most other countries, though that may be because fewer of those assaults are ever reported.
The lowest rates were in South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, ranging from 3.3 to 4.5 percent. However, these rates were considered too low because sexual violence is rarely reported in those areas because it is so highly stigmatized.
Surprisingly, and disappointingly, many countries had collected no data at all, while eight regions had data from only one country each.
The consequences of sexual violence are serious. After the attacks, victims suffer depression, anxiety and other health problems. Victims of sexual violence are also vulnerable to suicidal feelings, and show a high rate of suicide attempts. Help for victims can be nonexistent in many areas of the world.
Sexual violence has a terrible, long-lasting effect on their lives. Prevention of such assaults needs to be addressed when possible, and access to physical care and mental support in the aftermath of an attack needs to be increased.
Short-term and long-term care for victims of sexual assault is necessary, in Japan and abroad. Japan needs to do more to protect women, to prosecute attackers and to work toward a world in which women no longer suffer sexual violence.