Public Release: 

Over 1 in 4 South African men report using physical violence against their female partners

Canadian Medical Association Journal

A first-ever, national study conducted in South Africa found that 27.5 percent of men who have ever been married or lived with a partner report perpetrating physical violence against their current or most recent female partner. This study,led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, Yale School of Public Health, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, appears in the September 9, 2008, issue of CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal.)

Globally, some 15 to 75% of women report experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime. This new South African study is one of the very few public health investigations to examine risk factors for men's perpetration of violence against female intimate partners on a national level. It highlights the importance of men's exposure to violence during childhood in increasing their risk for perpetrating intimate partner violence. Men who witnessed parental violence as children were almost 4 times as likely to be physically violent against their partners as those who had not. Those who experienced abuse as children also had an elevated risk of using violence against their partners.

These findings are likely to have significant public health implications in battling South Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is among the largest in the world. "Accumulating evidence linking men's violence with their controlling and sexually risky behaviours (e.g., transactional sex, multiple partnering and inconsistent use of condoms), coupled with women's inability to demand condom use in abusive relationships, underscore how the prevention of men's violence against intimate partners may help to alter the course of South Africa's HIV epidemic," stated Dr. Jhumka Gupta, an author of the study. "Such initiatives should therefore be considered a public health priority."

Gupta and colleagues analyzed data from the South Africa Stress and Health Study, a national study which was conducted across all South African provinces from January 2002 to August 2004. The study sample examined in CMAJ contained 834 men who reported being married, previously married or in a cohabiting relationship and who provided data on intimate partner violence perpetration.

In an accompanying commentary,Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell and South African colleagues comment that the prevalence of intimate partner violence found in this study is lower than in previous studies in South Africa. They point out that the influence of community violence, war and subsequent mental health consequences are important to understanding intimate partner violence. Unresolved post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to violence against intimate partners, a finding particulary relevant to countries with veterans returning from overseas conflicts.

"The health care system in all countries must be involved in addressing this widespread problem," state Dr. Campbell and coauthors.


Contact for research: Christina Roache, Harvard School of Public Health, 617-432-6052, for Dr. Jhumka Gupta

Contact for commentary: North America: Kelly Brooks-Staub, 410-955-7552, or Lynn Schutz-Ritzel, 410-614-5317, for Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing

South Africa: Professor Lorna J Martin, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, +27 214066110

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