Abuse of Women Statistics: How Many Suffer From Mistreatment

What are the statistics on female abuse? How does the patriarchy contribute to these growing numbers?

According to Rebecca Solnit, women have long been fighting for basic human rights. Despite great progress in recent decades, the numbers on the mistreatment of women are still too high.

Let’s look at the abuse of women statistics to get a better understanding of why women are still fighting for equality.

Statistics on the Mistreatment of Women

Solnit cites statistics to illustrate her point about the mistreatment of and violence against women, particularly with regard to domestic violence, sexual assault, and murder. She notes that these abuse of women statistics are often purposely excluded from the news cycle—because if we confronted these statistics, we’d have to talk about the reasons behind them, such as the patriarchy and gender roles. And if we did that, we’d then have to discuss how to prevent this violence, which would require significant systemic change in societies throughout the world. 

What Is the Patriarchy, and Why Did It Begin?

The term “patriarchy” (which we mentioned earlier but will define in more detail now) refers to a hierarchical social structure that privileges men and masculinity over women and femininity. This structure can play out on both the domestic level (within households) and the public level (within society at large), as we’ll see later in the guide. Patriarchy depends on a strict binary division between men and women, as well as a devaluation of the latter. Most societies around the world are patriarchal, but some are matrilineal, which allot equal or greater power to women as they do to men. 

There’s a common belief that patriarchy is part of human nature and that it naturally stems from the family structure with a man as the household leader. However, historical research suggests that patriarchy began around the same time that states began to form. Experts theorize that those at the top of the political and social hierarchy in these early states imposed strict gender norms on the lower classes. These gender norms were designed to strengthen the state’s military and production by keeping women in a primarily reproductive role, ensuring the state had an ongoing source of labor and soldiers. These gender norms have persisted, leading to the current surfeit of patriarchal societies.

Assault and Domestic Violence

Solnit explains that, in America, a woman is assaulted by a partner every nine seconds. This makes domestic violence the single most common cause of injury for women in the United States, with 2 million annual injuries, of which over 25% require medical attention. Additionally, the most common cause of death for pregnant women in America is violence from a spouse—approximately three women are murdered by a spouse or ex-spouse every day. Statistics around the world are similarly grim: One global study suggests that  women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be injured or killed by men than cancer, malaria, war, and traffic accidents together. 

(Shortform note: While it’s much less common, men can also be the victims of domestic violence. Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show that around 25% of men in the US have experienced physical violence from a partner, and more than 10% have experienced severe physical violence from a partner. However, other sources suggest that the rates at which men experience violence from a partner are approximately equal to the rates at which women do, though the impacts tend to differ. Men are less likely to report severe injuries or fear for their lives, and women are more likely to experience more severe, ongoing patterns of violence.)

Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Rape

Solnit estimates that tens of millions of women are raped in America every year. A rape is reported every 6.2 minutes—but since most rapes go unreported, she suggests that it’s possible a rape occurs every minute. Sexual harassment and assault are similarly prevalent, and Solnit notes that these in particular often occur in organizations like colleges and universities, workplaces, and the military. In America, 20% of all women are rape survivors; nearly 20% of female college students experience sexual assault; and Leon Panetta—the former Secretary of Defense—estimated that in 2010, nearly 20,000 soldiers were sexually assaulted by other soldiers, with the perpetrators rarely facing punishment. Despite the scale of the problem, rapes are often poorly investigated, if they’re investigated at all—Solnit states that the backlog of untested rape kits in America is nearly half a million. 

Rape can also give men continuing power over women, since it can result in pregnancy. Solnit notes that there are 31 states in which rapists have parental rights over the children who result from their violence. This predicament is further compounded by the fact that many politicians have been pushing anti-abortion legislation, including bills that could allow a rapist to sue their victim for having an abortion.  

Additionally, the burden for preventing male violence tends to be placed on the victims rather than the perpetrators, explains Solnit. Colleges, for example, often respond to sexual violence by trying to teach women how to avoid being assaulted, rather than trying to teach men not to assault. 

Not All Men…But Yes All Women

Solnit explains that her aim is not to villainize men. She notes that an increasing number of men are allies and feminists, who recognize that gender rights are not a competition and that equality for women doesn’t mean men will be more oppressed. However, she asserts that discussion of the idea that not all men are violent toward women misses the point. It’s certainly true that not all men engage in these violent acts, but enough of them do that all women have to worry about being assaulted.

Abuse of Women Statistics: How Many Suffer From Mistreatment

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Rebecca Solnit's "Men Explain Things to Me" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Men Explain Things to Me summary:

  • How "mansplaining" comes from a cultural tendency to devalue women
  • The attitude of control that motivates the mistreatment of women
  • The role that language plays in the advancement of women’s rights

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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