The challenges of comparing intimate partner violence statistics on a global scale – Law Journal for Social Justice

By Sara Lander

Editor’s Note: This blog post discusses intimate partner violence and domestic violence.

Many scholarly articles on intimate partner violence (IPV) begin by acknowledging the reality that more than 640 million women globally—or 26% of women 15 or older—have been subject to IPV during their lifetimes.[1] With a topic of this nature, it is no wonder that scholars are drawn to the shock value of such disturbing statistics: The data on IPV speaks volumes. Data can help international organizations understand the urgency and scale of the problem, and advocates can use the data to push for funding or other necessary resources. Unfortunately, there are geographical disparities in collecting data on IPV.

Much of the available research on IPV was “conducted in the so-called Global North”—a term used to describe high-earning, industrialized countries in North America and Europe.[2] In recent years, studies have sought to address the geographical gaps in available IPV data. However, researchers not only face challenges related to irregular data collection and reporting issues, but also struggle to draw global comparisons in the face of variations in survey design and a lack of a uniform definition for IPV. As a result, in order to evaluate the statistics that researchers must try to understand, a foundation must first define the parameters of “intimate partner violence.”

Infographic: Intimate Partner Violence (CDC).

Definition of Intimate Partner Violence

The United Nations defines domestic violence or “intimate partner violence” as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain, or maintain, power and control over an intimate partner.” In the eyes of the UN: “Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, faith or class.” Likewise, physical abuse is not the only form that IPV can take; sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions can also constitute IPV. Unfortunately, such a broad definition of IPV is not reflected in its criminal classifications for many countries. A comparative study[3] on IPV in the United States calls for an expansion of the criminal definition of IPV to include economic violence and its more covert forms of control (e.g., sabotaging a victim’s employment prospects or restricting their access to basic necessities).

Another study[4] on IPV survivors and their experiences with ongoing economic violence in Israel suggests that a lack of legal recognition for economic abuse results in a state institution that silences and, in some cases, even aggravates economic abuses suffered by IPV survivors. More data is needed to understand (and individuate) the prevalence of global IPV that is economic in nature. However, a global comparison can tentatively be made regarding the estimated frequency of IPV (specific to physical and/or sexual violence) experienced during the lifetimes of women ages 15 or older.

IPV Statistics

The table below, created using data from a comprehensive literature review and analysis of intimate partner violence against women in 2018, still barely scratches the surface of the nuanced regional data available on IPV. The information is offered for the interested mind who wonders about how the prevalence of IPV varies around the world. Additionally, this table serves as an entry point for a discussion about why these numbers only tell part of the overall story about IPV. Keep in mind that while their experiences have been summed up in numbers, there are real people—real survivors—behind each of these statistics.

RegionEstimated IPV Lifetime PrevalenceNorth Africa & Middle East31%Central Sub-Saharan Africa44%Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa38%Western Sub-Saharan Africa27%Southern Sub-Saharan Africa27%North America25%Caribbean21%Andean Latin America38%Central Latin America24%Tropical Latin America23%Southern Latin America25%Central Europe16%Eastern Europe21%Western Europe20%Central Asia18%South Asia35%East Asia19%Southeast Asia21%Asia Pacific21%Oceania49%*World27%
*The World Health Organization (WHO) breaks down the percentages of lifetime IPV even further into 51% for Melanesia, 41% for Micronesia, and 39% for Polynesia.

Limitations on IPV Research

It is well-recognized that sensitive topics like IPV often have incidents go underrepresented in surveys. Since many of the studies are based on self-reported experiences with IPV, the data can be limited by the participant’s willingness to open up to researchers due to the potential risk of harm. In other studies relying on data from police reports, underreporting can be attributed to regional practices where police may not record incidents between intimate partners. In addition, factors such as financial dependency on a perpetrator of IPV, fear of escalation of violence after reporting, and the labeling of helplines as exclusively for women also contribute to the reluctance of survivors to seek help.[5] Likewise, in some regions,[6] IPV is treated as a private family concern due to perceptions about family unity or religious beliefs that give rise to attitudes normalizing violent behavior against women.

These culture-specific nuances and other variables might be addressed in a survey design by asking the right questions, but collecting data is only the first step. Ending IPV can seem like an insurmountable task in the face of the harm it causes globally. But despite the psychic numbing that accompanies learning the scale of the problem, there is value in remembering that “even partial solutions save lives.” Familiarizing oneself with the forms of IPV and support resources in the community are small-scale ways to increase the effectiveness of IPV prevention efforts. As future lawyers, but also as individuals at risk of receiving or perpetuating IPV, the cycle of violence can only end if we embrace protective strategies on individual, interpersonal, community, and societal levels.

[1] This blog post will alternate between using the gender-neutral term “IPV survivors” and referencing IPV against women specifically. Where possible, the author wants to acknowledge that women are not the only victims—and survivors—of IPV. However, when the data only comes from surveys involving women survivors of IPV, this blog post will clearly identify that women are the population being discussed.

[2] This journal article from the National Library of Medicine discusses why this term, and similar socio-political descriptors, are problematic.

[3] Amanda M. Stylianou, Economic Abuse Within Intimate Partner Violence: A Review of the Literature, 33 Violence & Victims 3 (Jan. 2018), DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.33.1.3,

[4] Karni Krigel & Orly Benjamin, From Physical Violence to Intensified Economic Abuse: Transactions Between the Types of IPV Over Survivors’ Life Courses, 27 Violence Against Women 1211, 1215 (2021), DOI: 10.1177/1077801220940397,

[5] Marta Garnelo et al., Applying Behavioral Insights to Intimate Partner Violence: Improving Services for Survivors in Latin America and the Caribbean, Behavioral Insights (Nov. 2019),

[6] Sezer Kisa et al., Domestic Violence Against Women in North African & Middle Eastern Countries: A Scoping Review, 24 Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 549 (Apr. 2023),

Sara (she/her) is currently a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Before law school, Sara graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Political Science. Her legal interests include immigration, human rights, appellate, and international law. Outside of school, Sara enjoys writing, reading, and traveling. She can be found around the Phoenix Valley trying out new bookstores and cafes.

Published by Law Journal for Social Justice at Arizona State University

The Law Journal for Social Justice (“LJSJ”) is the first student-run and student-created online journal at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. LJSJ aims to edit, publish, and produce notable works through its online website from legal scholars, practitioners and law students. LJSJ also publishes twice a year, featuring articles that focus on important, novel and controversial areas of law. LJSJ will provide a fresh perspective and propose solutions to cornerstone issues that are often not discussed, which may also have the potential to positively impact local communities.
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