Gender Based Violence

What is gender based violence?

What health workers need to know about gender-based violence. An Overview

Gender based violence is the collective term for “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately.  It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty” (United Nations, 1992)

It comprises a range of abuse that includes domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment and stalking, commercial sexual exploitation, and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and so called ‘honour’ crimes.

Being female is the key risk factor for gender-based violence.  GBV cuts across all boundaries of age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion & belief and socio economic inequality.  It is also important to recognise that men too can experience abuse whilst women may be perpetrators, and that abuse within same sex relationships has a similar prevalence to heterosexual relationships.

Health impact

The physical, emotional and psychological consequences of all forms of abuse can be profound and damaging. They are significant predictors of poor health and strong risk factors for poor health outcomes and compromised functioning.

Examples to be aware of are chronic pain, injuries, gynaecological and obstetric problems, STIs, substance misuse, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Please see the guidance for further information.

See the whole person

Consider how abuse may be hidden but nevertheless contributes to who the person is and has a bearing on the symptoms that they present with.


Routine enquiry enables healthcare practitioners to work with the whole person, taking account of wider life experience and the impact of social inequalities, including abuse, on their health.

There are interconnections between different forms of abuse, and individuals may be vulnerable to more than one form of abuse from childhood into adulthood. This holistic approach involves considering factors that are usually hidden behind presenting symptoms.

Support for staff

Supporting someone who is experiencing, or has experienced, abuse can be stressful.  It is also common to feel frustrated or helpless if you cannot ‘solve’ the problem.  In these situations it is important to be able to acknowledge how you feel and seek support or guidance from a supervisor or colleague.

Given the prevalence of abuse and the number of people employed in the NHS, this may directly affect you or a colleague.  There should be a local employee policy on gender based violence within your health board which provides guidance on how you can be supported at work.  If you are concerned about your own behaviour or that of a colleague, check the local employee policy for guidance about who to approach, or how to address this issue.

Types of gender based violence

Domestic abuse

Between one in three and one in five women experiences some form of domestic abuse over a lifetime.

Rape and sexual assault

In 54% of rape cases women are raped by a current or ex-partner.

Child sexual abuse

21% of girls and 11% of boys have experienced child sexual abuse.

Commercial sexual exploitation

There are 4,000 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK.

Stalking and harassment

Women, and younger women in particular, are the most likely victims of stalking and tend to experience severe and lasting effects.

Harmful traditional practices

An estimated 66,000 women living in the UK have undergone female genital mutilation.

Support for Survivors

If you are looking for support for your own experiences of GBV you can call:

Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline
0800 027 1234

Rape Crisis Scotland
08088 010302

or click on:

Scottish Womens Aid

Survivor Scotland

Galop National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline


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