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Evidence SynthesesEvidence Syntheses

State of the field of research on violence against women and girls

This paper reviews the knowledge base on the scale, scope and nature of VAWG and the factors that drive it at individual, relationship, community and structural levels. It focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV), non-partner sexual violence, and child abuse.

The paper summarises the evidence from qualitative and quantitative (cross-sectional and longitudinal) research on VAWG published in peer-reviewed journals and organisational reports in the last twenty years, with a focus on the most recent literature.  It then identifies our gaps in understanding where the evidence base needs to be expanded in order to inform more sophisticated interventions and make a real impact on the prevalence of VAWG globally. 

Finally, the paper discusses the implications of the state of knowledge for primary prevention interventions and future research priorities. This paper helped to inform the priorities of the DFID-funded ‘What Works to Prevent VAWG’ programme.

What do we know about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?

  • Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant social problem worldwide, but the level of violence varies greatly between settings. 
  • Most partner violence in low income countries is perpetrated by men against women. 
  • Universally, types of violence (sexual, physical, emotional and economic) overlap in relationships, although the pattern of violence varies among countries. 
  • No single factor causes partner violence, nor is there a single pathway to perpetration. 
  • The individual-level factors that increase risks of IPV are violence in Childhood; Attitudes and norms accepting partner violence; men’s excessive use of alcohol; and harmful notions of masculinity and rigid gender roles.
  • Less is known about the relationship, community, macro-social and global processes that predispose individuals and populations to higher levels of partner violence. 

What do we know about Non-Partner Sexual Violence (NPSV)?

  • Sexual violence is a global problem, but levels of violence vary significantly across and within countries. 
  • Sexual violence most commonly occurs within intimate partner relationships, but there is a strong overlap between the perpetration of non-partner sexual violence and intimate partner sexual violence. 
  • Gang rape is the least common form of sexual violence in most settings; however, it is of serious concern in some countries. 
  • The majority of sexual o ences are committed by men known to the victim, with approximately half being repeat o enders. 
  • Perpetration of non-partner sexual violence usually starts in adolescence. 
  • While impunity remains a serious concern, data does not suggest that incarceration of perpetrators is a strong preventative. 
  • Non-partner sexual violence is motivated primarily by sexual entitlement. 
  • Men who rape men have also often raped women. 
  • Some factors appear consistently influential in increasing the risk of non-partner sexual violence in low-income and middle-income settings: Adverse childhood experiences; Gender inequality and dominant masculinities that emphasise heterosexual performance; Social learning and delinquency; Personality disorders; Alcohol and drug misuse 
  • The risk factors for forcing sex within an on- going relationship appear to be somewhat different to those that drive rape outside of relationships. 
  • Risk factors for rape of a man are similar to those of the rape of a non-partner woman. 

What do we know about Child Abuse?

  • Violence against children is a worldwide problem, although the current evidence base on prevalence is highly skewed toward sexual abuse and Western high-income countries. 
  • This includes harsh physical punishment, children witnessing their parent’s violence, child sexual abuse and other forms of maltreatment including emotional abuse and neglect.
  • Types of violence and adversity in families frequently overlap. This means that researchers must understand family environments that put children at risk, rather than studying one type of violence at a time. 
  • Despite the number and variety of risk factors that many children experience, studies suggest that children can be resilient to the deleterious effects of violence exposure 
Date published
  • 2015
Author(s)
  • Emma Fulu
  • Lori Heise
Published by What Works
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