Intended for healthcare professionals


Responding to intimate partner and sexual violence against women

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 20 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3100
  1. Alex Hardip Sohal, general practitioner1,
  2. Davina James-Hanman, director 2
  1. 1Chrisp Street Health Centre, London, E14 6PG, UK
  2. 2AVA (Against Violence and Abuse), London, UK
  1. ahsohal{at}

New WHO guidelines outline what to do

On 20 June the World Health Organization published its first clinical and policy evidence based guidelines on responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women.1 These landmark guidelines draw from a WHO study of 24 097women in 10 countries.2 This study showed widespread lifetime physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner (15-71% prevalence among ever partnered women) and associated effects on health. Health outcomes associated with such violence include substantially increased risk of suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, pain, dizziness, and vaginal discharge.3 The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study ranked intimate partner violence fifth in terms of years lost owing to disability.4 In a study of Australian women of reproductive age (15-44 years), intimate partner violence was the largest risk factor for poor health (greater than smoking, alcohol, obesity, hypercholesterolaemia, and hypertension).5 Such violence is undoubtedly a major public health problem that requires a compassionate and effective health response.

The WHO guidelines offer 37 recommendations about the clinical care of women who have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual violence (or both), the training of healthcare providers, and the formulation of healthcare policy and service provision. They meet a crucial need to raise awareness of such violence as a health matter—rather than just a criminal justice, social, or personal problem—among healthcare providers, trainers, and policy makers.

The WHO report …

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