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1 in 14 Women Reports Non-Partner Sexual Assault Worldwide

One in every 14 females around the world ages 15 and older has been sexually assaulted at least once in their lives by someone other than an intimate partner, claims new research released Tuesday.

Recent news accounts of gang rapes and murders of women in India and South Africa have heightened global awareness of sexual violence. The new study, published in The Lancet, finds that such assaults have become “endemic” in at least three global regions: central sub-Saharan Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 21 percent of all women 15 and older report being rape victims; southern sub-Saharan Africa, including Namibia, where the figure is 17.4 percent; and New Zealand and Australia, where it's 16.4 percent.

In North America, 13 percent of women reported being raped. The region ranked sixth highest among the 21 international regions examined. But the authors caution that women in the United States and Canada may feel more comfortable than females in other cultures about notifying authorities of sexual attacks.

“The U.S. figures are high, but the differences seen between regions may be due to varying levels of underreporting by women," said co-author Charlotte Watts, director of the Gender, Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“If anything, women will tend to underreport their experiences, and so the figures provide low-end estimates of ... sexual violence occurring globally,” Watts said.

To calculate the rates of reported rape in each region, the authors found and analyzed peer-reviewed literature on the topic published from 1998 through 2011. In all, that reading spanned more than 7,000 studies covering 56 countries.

“This study is landmark in its scale and scope and confirms that non-partner sexual violence is a global problem,” said Kathryn Yount, the Asa Griggs Candler Chair of Global Health in the sociology department at Emory University. The Lancet editors invited Yount to comment on the article.

“This problem warrants renewed efforts to expand and to improve data collection efforts to enhance disclosure of a highly stigmatized experience,” Yount said.