Domestic violence against women is a global epidemic.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, nearly one-third of women over the age of 15 have been physically or sexually abused by a partner.
Those numbers are slightly lower in North America, where around 23 percent of women have been victimized. But even here, domestic violence is a continually worsening problem.
“The number increases every year,” said Ashli Diamond, Washington County victim advocate.
Diamond acts as a liaison for domestic violence victims whose abusers are found guilty of felonious crimes. She tracks both calls that do and do not result in criminal charges and has seen reports from domestic violence victims steadily rise over the years, she said.
In a one-year period between 2010 and 2011, Diamond fielded 620 reports of violence or abuse.
According to the Associated Press, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that 30 percent of women worldwide have been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. The figure was the result of analyzing information from 86 countries and then modeling those numbers to arrive at global estimates.
At the Marietta City Law Director’s Office, Victim Information Program Coordinator Jackie Harris acts as a point of contact for victims of misdemeanor domestic crimes.
Though it is hard to gage a percentage of women being abused, the global and continental numbers were not surprising to Harris, she said.
“People don’t realize how prevalent it all is,” noted Harris.
Many victims of domestic violence do not report abuse until long after it has started and some never report it at all.
“A lot of people don’t realize they’re in a domestic violence situation until they’ve lost control. When you’re in it, you’re sometimes not aware it is happening,” said Diamond.
Both Diamond and Harris are quick to refer victims to counseling, which can help victims recognize the signs of an abusive relationship early and avoid them in the future, said Diamond.
Counseling is an important component at EVE, Inc., which provides counseling, shelter and support for local domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
Another important step in eradicating domestic violence is better education, experts said.
One way EVE does this is through a Safe Dates program that targets high school students, teaching them dating violence prevention, said Annelle Edwards, co-executive director at EVE.
Because a portion of abuse goes unreported, some experts have recommended adding domestic violence screening to all levels of health care, according to the Associated Press.
For instance, questions about domestic violence could be integrated into women’s annual physical appointments.
Edwards said that is already happening at a lot of health care agencies.
“I think it needs to be carefully done so it doesn’t put the victim at further risk,” she said, noting that manipulation can be ongoing even then.
While domestic violence incidents reported to EVE have stayed fairly consistent over the last five years, most of that time the shelter has been at capacity, she said.
That is attributed in part because it is taking women longer to find employment and housing, she added.
Another trend Edwards has noticed is that a lot of younger women are seeking shelter.
The numbers released by the WHO are not surprising to Edwards, who said they match up with previous statistics available to the organization.
While the WHO found that North American domestic violence numbers are the lowest worldwide, there is still a lot of progress to be made, said Edwards.
“I sometimes think we’ve made a lot of progress, but at the same time I sit back and think that these are the same things we were talking about 25 years ago,” she said.
One thing that would have a significant impact is men becoming involved in the fight against domestic violence, she said.
“One of the things we’ve recently been trying to get involved in is engaging men in the community. We need men to stand up and say these kinds of behaviors are not OK,” said Edwards.