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FiveThirtyEight

A special rapporteur for the United Nations said this week that the U.K. is home to “a boys’ club, sexist culture” that is more pervasive than in other countries. Rashida Manjoo, the U.N. investigator studying violence against women, made the remarks at the end of a 16-day mission to the country.

But how much worse? Manjoo didn’t say, but in summarizing her trip, she pointed to four key statistics on violence against women in Britain.

“7% of women in England and Wales reported having experienced any type of domestic abuse in the course of last year”

The Home Office, the British agency that reports on domestic abuse, uses a definition of domestic violence and abuse that is consistent with the one used by the U.N., which tracks statistics released by various countries. Because the U.N. uses the most recent national data it can find, the years of that data differ. For example, the number for Turkey was last updated in 2008, but for Thailand, it’s 2005. The category “intimate partner violence, physical and/or sexual in the past 12 months,” however, still provides a way to put the U.K. in context. And on the basis of the U.N.’s comparison, women in the U.K. experience considerably less domestic abuse than elsewhere.

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Bear in mind that the quality of statistics will be heavily affected by each country’s culture. Women in some places will be more reluctant to say they’ve experienced domestic abuse, and authorities in some countries are more reluctant to recognize and acknowledge such abuse.

“30% of women reported having experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16″

The only estimates available for this metric are global. This is what the U.N.’s data on “lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence” by age looks like:

Age group, years Prevalence (%) Confidence Interval
15–19 29.4 26.8 to 32.1
20–24 31.6 29.2 to 33.9
25–29 32.3 30 to 34.6
30–34 31.1 28.9 to 33.4
35–39 36.6 30 to 43.2
40–44 37.8 30.7 to 44.9
45–49 29.2 26.9 to 31.5
50–54 25.5 18.6 to 32.4
55–59 15.1 6.1 to 24.1
60–64 19.6 9.6 to 29.5
65–69 22.2 12.8 to 31.6

“2.5% of women reported having experienced any type of sexual assaults”

Here, we were able to use the same U.N. statistics, so the same caveats (as explained above) apply.

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“25% of all sexual assaults involved serious sexual assault, which includes rape”

This time, the agency with comparable data is the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It has figures from 2011 on sexual violence, which includes sexual assault and rape. Those figures don’t directly put the U.K. figure in context, because there isn’t the same distinction in categories. But they do show that among the 68 countries for which the UNODC had data in 2011, the average prevalence of sexual assault was 36.7 incidents per 100,000 of the population (that’s the entire population, not just women). In England and Wales, there were 79 incidents for every 100,000 people. The highest rate was in Sweden, where, in 2011, the sexual assault rate was 181 for every 100,000 people.

The U.N. special rapporteur did not claim that violence against women in the U.K. is the worst in the world, only that it is worse than in other countries. Her exact comments were: “Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face in other countries. I haven’t seen that so pervasively in other countries. I’m sure it exists but it wasn’t so much and so pervasive.”

On that basis, although the U.K. ranks better than many countries on many metrics, her conclusions are sound. That international context is nevertheless important; it shows that nowhere are women free from such violence, and that such treatment is not a “development” issue — the prevalence of violence against women can be higher in wealthier countries. The World Health Organization has compiled estimates on the prevalence, the results of which were so bad that the issue was deemed a “global health problem of epidemic proportions“.

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