Violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC) is globally recognized as the violations of human rights and public health problem. Throughout the world, an average of 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual non-partner violence in their lifetime. UNICEF estimates that 6 in 10 children aged 2-14 experience regular physical punishment, while global prevalence of child sexual abuse is estimated at 12 percent.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include specific targets to: eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) and end the abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
Historically, work to address VAW and VAC has often occurred separately or in silos. However, there is growing global evidence on the intersections of VAW and VAC, including shared risk factors, common social norms, co-occurrence, and the intergenerational cycle of abuse. VAW and VAC intersect at various stages of the life course, such as during adolescence. For example, child marriage, FGM and exposure to IPV in dating relationships may be both VAW and VAC. This points to the potential opportunities for integrated responses.
Intersections and opportunities
- Shared Risk Factors
VAW and VAC tend to be more common in societies with weak legal sanctions against violence, social norms that condone violence, high levels of gender inequality, and inadequate protections for human rights; as well as within communities with weak institutional responses to violence and high levels of criminal violence or armed conflict. Patriarchal family and community structures are a cross-cutting risk factor for violence against both women and children within the family, and are the structures onto which other risk factors are overlaid. Other shared risk factors for intimate partner violence (IPV) and VAC include marital conflict and family disintegration, economic stress and male unemployment, alcohol and drug use, and inadequate responses to violence.
Eliminating common risk factors therefore has the potential to reduce multiple forms of violence, such as child maltreatment and IPV. For example, witnessing abuse of the mother is a key risk factor for both child maltreatment and IPV during adulthood, creating a cycle of violence within the family. Addressing IPV can disrupt that cycle to reduce rates of violence for future generations.
- Common Social Norms
Social norms that condone, justify and excuse violence and support gender inequality underpin both VAW and VAC. For example, norms about the acceptability of wife-beating and male control are consistently associated with higher rates of IPV and similar norms about the acceptability of physical disciplining of children underpin VAC in different settings, and often exist alongside justifications for wife-beating. Children’s exposure to violence-supportive norms at home can also influence their own perpetration and victimisation of violence.
Gender norms that dictate men’s right to control or discipline women and girls, and norms that link male honour to female sexuality can contribute to men’s violence against women. Norms relating to male sexual entitlement are commonly associated with sexual violence against women and adolescents. In addition to encouraging men to behave violently, social norms can foster silence about sexual and other forms of violence in communities.
- Co-occurence of IPV and VAC
VAC and IPV often co-occur, or happen within a single household. Patriarchal family structures maintain male authority and dominance in the family, and normalise and justify the use of violence to discipline subordinate family members. Recent evidence from Asia suggests that children in households where the mother is abused are more likely to experience harsh discipline. Parents’ use of physical discipline, which may be partly driven by their own experiences of childhood trauma, can serve to reinforce existing norms and structures which promote the social acceptance of IPV and VAC.
- Intergenerational Cycle of Abuse
Exposure to violence as a child is a risk factor for involvement in intimate partner violence as an adult. Growing up in a violent home has important implications for child development and subsequent behavior as an adult. In particular, experiencing child maltreatment and witnessing partner abuse in the home as a child have consistently been demonstrated to be risk factors for becoming both a perpetrator and victim of sexual and intimate partner violence as an adult. This intergenerational impact of exposure to childhood violence is stronger for becoming a perpetrator of sexual and intimate partner violence for men and for becoming a victim of intimate partner violence for women.
- Intersections of Violence During Adolescence
VAW and VAC overlap during adolescence, as some forms of violence are often first experienced during this period, or become elevated due to an individual’s age. There is evidence that adolescent girls are at greater risk of abuse during early intimate relationships, and of sexual assault and harassment in public places, compared with older women. Studies have also demonstrated that perpetration of non-partner sexual violence usually starts in adolescence. Adolescent marriage and childbearing are also risk factors for both IPV and child maltreatment in some settings.
This age group represents an important opportunity for preventing both VAW and VAC, such as through peer education that focuses on respectful relationships and addresses common social norms that underpin different types of violence in the family. Prevention efforts with adolescents should include both caregivers and intimate partners to address potential victimisation of multiple forms of violence such as child abuse and dating violence (polyvictimisation).
- Common consequences of violence against women and children
Violence against women and children may have similar consequences for physical health, mental health, and social functioning. Girls and women who experience sexual violence may experience sexual and reproductive health consequences, including unwanted pregnancy, pregnancy complications and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Enhanced legislative and policy framework for the empowerment and protection of women and children.
- Establish Inter-Ministerial coordination and other non-government agencies to address violence against women and children.
- Improve access to safe and responsive prevention and support services that are age and gender appropriate.
- Promote equal gender norms that do not accept violence against women or violence against children
- Integrate material on gender socialization and equal treatment of girls and boys into home and community based parenting programmes.
- Promote the integration of a gender perspective within microfinance programs.
- Strengthen intimate partner violence prevention programmes and ensure they also consider children both directly and indirectly exposed to violence.
- Change social norms that deem violence against women or violence against children to be acceptable
- Close the gaps in research and promote coordination in measuring progress toward 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
- Addressing IPV should be a priority to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of abuse and prevent both VAW and VAC in the long-term.
- Invest in research into potential pathways between VAW and VAC, cumulative impact throughout the life course, and resilience factors. Further evidence of pathways and polyvictimisation is particularly needed for humanitarian settings.
World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and nonpartner sexual violence. Geneva: WHO.
UNICEF. 2014. Hidden in plain sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children. New York: UNICEF.
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Bacchus, L. J., Colombini, M., Contreras Urbina, M., et al. 2017. Exploring opportunities for coordinated responses to intimate partner violence and child maltreatment in low and middle income countries: A scoping review. Psychology, Health & Medicine. 22(sup1): 1351
Fulu, E., Miedema, S., Roselli, T. et al. 2017. Pathways between childhood trauma, intimate intimate partner violence and harsh parenting: findings from the UN multi-country cross-sectional study on men and violence in Asia and the Pacific. Lancet Global Health. 5: e512
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