Gender-based Violence: Introduction

Background Information 

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to violence that occurs as a result of normative role expectations and perceived gender power inequities, and is a shift from referring only to “(men committing) violence against women”. It is a term inclusive of women, men, LGBT-identifying, and gender nonconforming individuals. CARE defines GBV as: “a harmful act or threat based on a person’s sex or gender identity. It includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse, coercion, denial of liberty and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private spheres. GBV is rooted in unjust power relations, structures and social/cultural norms.”

Worldwide, women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, hence the focus on “violence against women”. One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates as high as 70% in some countries. There is no nation free from this scourge, the United States and Canada included. However, some countries experience higher rates of gender-based violence. Often counties characterized by religious extremism, poverty, and political instability also experience higher levels of violence against women.

Gender-based violence takes many forms and is rarely limited to a single category. Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional; it can take place in the home or outside; it can even, in some situations, be considered socially acceptable. The effects are long lasting and wide-ranging, devastating lives and families and contributing to many other social ills. Anyone can be the victim or perpetrator, regardless of class, race, age, or religion. Too many believe that gender-based violence happens to “other” people, yet there is little distinction across economic, ethnic, geographic or religious lines. The Jewish community suffers the same rates of intimate partner violence as the national average.

Intimate-partner violence in the United States and Canada

Gender-based violence occurs at alarming rates in North America. Much of this violence is in the form of domestic or intimate partner violence, in which one partner uses abusive behavior to maintain power and control over the other. In Canada, most provinces have passed legislation based on Saskatchewan’s Victims of Domestic Violence Act (1995), which increase the options and material support available to victims. The Canadian federal government also supports the Family Violence Initiative, which implements strategies and programs aimed at reducing violence in the family as well as compiles data on the prevalence of domestic violence.

Quick Statistics on Intimate Partner Violence:

  • As many as 10 million men and women in the United States experience physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner each year.
  • One in three women and one in four men have been the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15-percent of all violence crime.

Sexual Violence in the United States and Canada

Sexual assault is defined by the Department of Justice as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. One in six American women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Almost 40% of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault since the age of 16. Very rarely do we hear about men as victims of sexual assault. This could be attributed to the lower rates of violence compared to women; for example, one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college, while one in five women will be assaulted. Still, there are other factors that contribute to this less-frequently discussed issue. Gender norms may play a role, as men are associated with stereotypes that emphasize masculinity, strength, and minimal emotional response. This creates a stigma around reporting sexual assault, particularly when a man is sexually assaulted by a woman (women can be perpetrators). The effects of this are adverse; for example each year 10,800 men in the military are assaulted, but only 13 percent report the attacks. It’s also important to include the intersection of individuals who identify as LGBTQ, who experience sexual violence at alarming rates. During college, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming students are assaulted. Transgender racial minorities are even more likely to be assaulted. 37 percent of bisexual men and 61 percent of bisexual women experience sexual or intimate partner violence, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men and 35 percent of heterosexual women. It is not always easy for LGBTQ people to report their assaults, as they may rightfully fear discrimination at the hands of the police and medical professionals.

Sexual assault in schools has become a larger conversation in North America as survivors have come forward and shared their stories and their schools’ lack of response. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires schools to prevent sex discrimination in education. Sexual violence perpetuates inequality and sex discrimination, and therefore schools have an obligation to respond. The Dear Colleague Letter of 2011 was issued by the Obama administration and clarified schools’ obligations under Title IX to respond in a prompt and effective manner to reports of sexual violence.

Comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to creating a culture free of sexual violence. Such education should include consent and healthy relationships.

Quick Statistics on Sexual Violence

  • Every 98 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted
  • In the U.S., 20% of high school girls ages 14-17 experience sexual assault
  • In the U.S., 20% of women undergraduates are the victims of completed or attempted acts of sexual assault
  • In Canada, the highest number of sex offenses occur against female students ages 15-24
  • One in sixteen undergraduate men will experience sexual violence while in college in the United States
  • 79% of survivors who were victimized by a family member, close friend or acquaintance experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school.

There is a strong commitment to ending this violence. In the United States, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994 and amended in 2002 and 2005, provides tools for prosecutors of crimes of gender-based violence and funds programs aimed at teaching respect and nonviolence in relationships as well as supporting the victims of violence and their families.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and Health Canada.

International Violence
International Violence Against Women

One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates as high as 70% in some countries. Violence against women is a human rights violation that devastates lives, fractures communities, and prevents women from fully contributing to the economic development of their countries. Gender-based violence is most prevalent in nations with high levels of corruption and instability and is even used as a weapon in some of the bloodiest conflicts on the planet.

Gender equality is a prerequisite to sustainable global development and security. When the United States, Canada, and other wealthy nations take action to prevent violence against women around the world and help reintegrate victims into society, we make a down-payment on the stability and wellbeing of our own nations.

With these diverse goals, advocates and legislators in the U.S. have drawn on the successes and challenges of the Violence Against Woman Act and introduced the International Violence Against women Act (IVAWA). IVAWA seeks to provide concrete tools to women and others fighting to change the circumstances which lead to violence against women and girls. The legislation would support programs around the globe that help prevent violence, support health and survivor services, encourage legal accountability and a change in public attitudes, promote access to economic opportunity and education for women and girls, and support existing similar initiatives worldwide. Furthermore, I-VAWA would make the issue of violence against women a major diplomatic priority.