Gender, women and health

Violence against women by non-partners

Sexual abuse before the age of 15 years

Since early sexual abuse is a highly sensitive issue that is difficult to explore in a survey, two different approaches were used to ask about it. Women were first asked directly whether anyone had ever touched them sexually, or made them do something sexual that they did not want to before the age of 15 years. In all countries except Bangladesh, the same question was asked again at the end of the interview, but the women were invited to mark their response on a card with a pictorial representation for “yes” and “no” (a smiling and a crying face of a girl). They then folded this card or sealed it in an envelope, thus keeping their response concealed from the interviewer.

As shown in Figure 8, in all but one setting (urban Peru) anonymous reporting resulted in more reports of sexual abuse before the age of 15 years. For example, Ethiopia had the lowest level of directly reported sexual abuse at less than 1%, but this rose to 7% in the anonymous responses. Large increases between direct and anonymous responses were also seen in Japan (10% to 14%), Namibia (5% to 21%), and urban United Republic of Tanzania (4% to 11%). Women in Bangladesh were not comfortable marking a piece of paper without their husband’s permission, and so only direct figures were produced (7% in the urban and 1% in the provincial setting). The most frequently mentioned perpetrators were male family members other than a father or stepfather.