New Study Finds That Activism and Intervention Can Drastically Decrease Domestic Violence

Researchers at George Washington University’s Global Women’s Institute have published a new study that found that women’s advocacy groups can change social norms and produce significant reductions in domestic violence against women. The researchers recorded a sharp decline in intimate partner violence against women in Nicaragua over a 20-year period between 1995 and 2016.

An earlier study conducted in 1995 found that one out of every two women in Nicaragua had experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in their lives. It also found that one out of four had experienced violence in the 12 months prior to the interview.

Mary Ellsberg, a professor of public health and the founding director of the Global Women’s Insitute at George Washington University, explained that domestic violence against women “was such a taboo subject, and many women were either ashamed or afraid to talk about their experiences, so people in Nicaragua assumed that domestic violence was not very common. Our study not only showed that domestic violence was extremely pervasive but also, through additional epidemiological studies, we found that it was a risk factor for many other serious public health problems.”

Concerted efforts were made in Nicaragua to add legal protections for women and to educate the population about the damaging effects of domestic violence. Women’s crisis centers led by grassroots women activists popped up all over the country, and the Nicaraguan Network of Women against Violence carried out campaigns to demand better laws and programs to protect women.

The follow-up survey conducted in 2016 found a 70 percent reduction in the percentage of women who reported they had been victims of domestic violence over the past year.

“People often think of violence as something that will always be with us, that it is inevitable,” Dr. Ellsberg said. “But our research shows that this is not true. Violence is actually preventable.”

Dr. Ellsberg earned a doctorate in epidemiology and public health from Umea University in Sweden and a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from Yale University.

The study, “Long-term Change in the Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence: A 20-year Follow-up Study in León, Nicaragua, 1995-2016,” was published in the BMJ Global Health. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/Harassment


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