Sexual violence occurs throughout the world. Although in most countries there has been little research conducted on the problem, available data suggest that in some countries nearly one in four women may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner (1–3), and up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced (4–6).
Sexual violence has a profound impact on physical and mental health. As well as causing physical injury, it is associated with an increased risk of a range of sexual and reproductive health problems, with both immediate and long-term consequences (4, 7–16). Its impact on mental health can be as serious as its physical impact, and may be equally long lasting (17–24). Deaths following sexual violence may be as a result of suicide, HIV infection (25) or murder – the latter occurring either during a sexual assault or subse- quently, as a murder of ‘‘honour’’ (26). Sexual violence can also profoundly affect the social well- being of victims; individuals may be stigmatized and ostracized by their families and others as a consequence (27, 28).