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Gender-Based Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: What Are the Real Numbers?

RH Reality Check | 3-5-2013

If an act of violence is perpetrated, but is never reported or documented, did it happen at all?

Of course the answer is “yes.” There are many reasons why survivors may not report incidents of violence, including fear of retaliation, stigma, or disillusion with law enforcement. Surveys from Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru show that up to 20 percent of women experience sexual assault, yet few to none report it to police. And many survivors actually do report incidents of violence but are met with ineffective judicial systems that parlay impunity or data monitoring systems that act like black holes, swallowing up evidence of the tragedy they have endured. Either way, we know that whatever statistics we do have about gender-based violence represent just a fraction of the harsh reality.

It is critically important to document acts of violence against women, systematically, carefully, and over time, not only to bear witness to the human rights abuses that far too many women experience daily worldwide, but also to understand the prevalence, nature, and root causes of such abuses so that we may be more effective in stemming them—both through laws and policies and through prevention and response programs.

While numerous country-level studies on gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean exist, there is a need for more up-to-date and comprehensive national prevalence data, as well as qualitative research into causes and risk and protection factors. In short, we need to do better at uncovering the full picture of gender-based violence in order to better address it. Further, a persistent lack of comparability between national studies in the region has hampered the ability to draw broader, meaningful conclusions. How do we zoom out to the bigger picture to understand violence regionally—its causes, what has been effective at preventing it, its costs, and more? How can we share successful prevention and response strategies across countries?

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