Prevalence of SGBV among men and women

Proportion of the population surveyed who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).  Depending on the study, this can be “ever experienced”, including when they were a child, or in a specific time period (i.e. past year).  Sexual violence is any violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality and includes:

  • Rape
  • Molestation
  • Sexual slavery
  • Forced marriage
  • Being forced to undress or being stripped of clothing
  • Insertion of foreign objects in the genital opening or anus
  • Forcing two individuals to perform sexual acts on one another or harm one another in a sexual manner (Johnson et al., 2008).

Gender-based violence is a term describing any harm perpetrated against a person that results from unequal power relationships determined by social roles ascribed to males and females (Women’s Wellness Center, 2006). This encompasses a broad range of abuses, from physical and sexual assault to emotional and institutional abuse or the threat of such abuse.  For example:

  • Slapping, kicking, punching, hitting, beating, choking, burning, shoving
  • Threatening with a weapon or had a weapon used against the individual
  • Sexual harassment
  • Exploitation
  • Sex trafficking
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Forced/early marriage

This indicator is calculated as:

(Number of people who have experienced SGBV (in a specific time period)/ Total number of people surveyed ) x 100


“Yes” response to having experienced any of the forms of SGBV listed by the interviewer.  Data should be disaggregated by sex and can be disaggregated by type of SGBV experienced, relationship with perpetrator, current age of respondent, age when respondent first experienced SGBV, region, ethnicity, or other appropriate group (only if the sample size can support sub-group analysis). If the data is measured in a survey using a probability sample, this estimate can be generalized back to the target population (e.g. people living in a particular region).


Special surveys.  In some instances this information can be gathered from clinic data if client SGBV history is gathered from both men and women. 

Note: Clinical data only reflects those who come to care, which is not representative of the actual problem.  It is well acknowledged that women who experience GBV often do not readily admit to having been abused when directly screened, and estimates of the rate of under-reporting range as high as 70% (Kothari C and Rhodes K, 2006) and may be higher in disaster settings.


This indicator measures the extent to which a given population has experienced SGBV by anyone – stranger, intimate partner, relative, etc.  When gathered, SGBV data is often collected from women and girls only. The inequality of power that is the foundation of SGBV, coupled with women’s inferior status in virtually all societies, makes women and girls the primary targets of SGBV around the globe.  However, SGBV is unfortunately not uncommon among boys and men as well, particularly among gay, bisexual, and transgender males, in conflict situations, and in communities where homosexuality is considered an aberration from the expectations of how men should behave.  In a South African study on sexual violence against men, about 1 in 10 men reported having experienced sexual violence by another man and about half of the male sexual violence survivors said they had raped a women.  The findings revealed that men's violence towards other men overlaps significantly with physical abuse of female partners (IRIN, 2011). Unless information is collected from both men and women and the full scope of SGBV is assessed, it will be difficult to structure programs to prevent and respond to the problem. 


While it is useful to measure the prevalence of any form of SGBV, there are several concerns to consider related to both the way this information is obtained as well as to how the results are interpreted. A woman who experiences intimate partner violence or other violence may be endangered by participating in a study if her partner or another perpetrator discovers that she disclosed this information. The interview also needs to be conducted in a sensitive manner in order to protect the respondent as much as possible from experiencing distress if s/he discloses their experiences.  All research in this area should adhere to ethical guidelines which were established as standards to maintain safety and confidentiality. (See the WHO documents, “Ethical and safety recommendations for researching, documenting, and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies” and “Putting Women First: Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence Against Women”, for examples.) In addition, data based on self-reports can be biased by any number of factors. 

Even after adhering to the ethical guidelines and providing a good setting in which to conduct interviews, there will always be some who will not disclose this information. This means that estimates will likely be lower than the actual level of violence which has taken place in the surveyed population. Under reporting may occur for many reasons, including cultural contexts where some types of violence perpetrated by intimate partners is viewed as normal, when someone fears reprisal upon disclosure, or where the level of stigma around such violence in the given society is high. Therefore, estimated levels of SGBV and the patterns associated with factors such as education and socio-economic status should be interpreted with caution (Bloom, 2008).


female genital cutting (FGC), violence

Because of the high prevalence of violence against women and girls globally, it is easy to forget that men and boys are victimized too and the prevalence of SGBV among males may be higher than previously thought.  SGBV against men and boys conflicts with male stereotypes of machismo. There is also a myth that women do not have the capacity to commit sexual violence atrocities despite prosecutions for such crimes. Policymakers and donors need to adjust societal paradigms of sexual violence and direct attention to female perpetrators and male survivors in regard to rehabilitation and justice. Furthermore, collecting data on SGBV prevalence reinforces the need to include men in sexual violence definitions and policies and consider the protections of men and boys by the United Nations as it has with women and children (Johnson et al., 2010).


Johnson K, Asher J, Rosborough S, Raja A, Panjabi R, Beadling C, and Lawry L. “Association of Combatant Status and Sexual Violence with Health and Mental Health Outcomes in Postconflict Liberia,” JAMA (300) 2008: 676-690.

Women’s Wellness Center and The Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium. Prevalence of Gender-Based Violence: Preliminary Findings from a Field Assessment in Nine Villages in the Peja Region, Kosovo, 2006.

Bloom S.  “Violence Against Women and Girls: A Compendium of Monitoring and Evaluation Indicators.”  USAID, IGWG, and MEASURE Evaluation, 2008.

Watts, C et al. Putting Women First: Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence Against Women. Document WHO/FCH/GWH/01.1.  Geneva, World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/gender/violence/womenfirtseng.pdf

Johnson K, Scott J, Rughita B, Kisielewski M, Asher J, Ong R, and Lawry L. “Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations with Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” JAMA (304) 2010: 553-562.

WHO’s Ethical and safety recommendations for researching, documenting and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies.  WHO, 2007.  Available at: http://www.who.int/gender/documents/OMS_Ethics&Safety10Aug07.pdf

Kothari C and Rhodes K. “Missed opportunities: emergency department visits by police-identified victims of intimate partner violence,” Annals of Emergency Medicine, 47(2) 2006: 190-199.

IRIN PlusNEws. "South Africa: Sexual violence against men neglected."  October 20, 2011. 

Related content
Female Genital Cutting
Navigation