Marriage is an on-going debate but marital sexual violence is a serious societal concern plaguing many families.
A 2021 study by Oxfam India, highlighted the extent of the sexual violence in Indian marriages; it estimated there were over 84.4 million women “affected by spousal violence” who needed counselling services; 18.3 million survivors who need medical attention; and a potential 5.4 million survivors of sexual violence who need psychiatric counselling.
According to the National Family Health Survey report, sexual violence is most often committed by individuals with whom women have an intimate relationship. Nearly 1 in 3 married women between the age of 18 to 49-years in India has experienced physical or sexual violence by their husbands.
In the ever-married category of women surveyed for the NFHS, 82 percent of women between the age of 18-years to 49-years reported that they experienced sexual violence with their current husbands and 14-percent from their former husband.
Among never-married women who reported sexual violence, the most common perpetrators were ‘other’ relatives (39 percent), followed by a current or former boyfriend (16 percent) and a family friend (12 percent).
Some never-married women mention stranger (5 percent), teacher, father/step-father, and brother/step-brother (4 percent each) as perpetrators.
The NFHS report further revealed that physical violence and sexual violence may not occur in isolation; rather, women may experience a combination of different types of violence. Twenty-five percent of women age 18-49 have experienced physical violence only, 6 percent have experienced both physical and sexual violence, and 1 percent have experienced sexual violence only. About one-third (32 percent) of women age 18-49 in India have experienced physical or sexual violence.
The report also revealed that the percentage of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence ranges from 3 percent in Lakshadweep to 42-49 percent in Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Karnataka.
Women in rural areas are more likely (34 percent) than women in urban areas (27%) to experience one or more forms of spousal violence
The NFHS report noted that although all forms of spousal violence decline sharply with schooling and wealth, 1 in 5 women with 12 or more years of schooling and women who are in the highest wealth quintile report ever having experienced physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence.
Intergenerational effects of spousal violence are evident in India. Women who report that their father beat their mother are much more likely (58 percent) to have themselves experienced spousal violence than women who report that their fathers did not beat their mother (25 percent)
Based on the NFHS reports of ever-married women age 18-49 of their experience of spousal violence, husbands who have completed 12 or more years of schooling are half as likely (22 percent) to commit physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence as husbands with no schooling (43 percent). Notably, the variation in spousal violence by women’s own education is similar to the variation by the education of their husband. Women with husbands having the same education level as them are less likely (26 percent) to have experienced spousal violence than women in couples in which neither attended school (43 percent) or one or the other has more schooling.
Experience of spousal physical or sexual violence varies greatly with the level of the husband’s alcohol consumption. Seventy-one percent of women whose husbands often get drunk have experienced spousal physical or sexual violence, compared with 23 percent of women whose husbands do not drink alcohol.
Fear of husband and spousal violence are highly correlated. Women who say that they are afraid of their husband most of the time are most likely to have ever experienced spousal violence (59 percent), followed by women who are sometimes afraid of their husbands (34%). Among women who say that they are never afraid of their husband, 15 percent have experienced spousal violence.
The report further revealed that among currently married women age 18-49 who have been married only once, 11 percent reported their first ever experience of spousal violence within the first 2 years of marriage, and 21 percent experienced such violence within 5 years. This suggests that a large proportion of spousal violence begins early in marriage.
Cuts, bruises, or aches are the most common types of injuries (22 percent) reported by women who have experienced spousal physical or sexual violence. However, 7 percent of women who experienced spousal physical or sexual violence report serious injuries like eye injuries, sprains, dislocations, or burns and 6 percent have had deep wounds, broken bones, or broken teeth. Three percent report having experienced severe burns.
Of the acts of physical violence committed by the current or most recent husbands, the most common type is slapping, reported by 25 percent of ever-married women. Twelve percent of women reported being pushed, shaken, or having something thrown at them; 10 percent reported having their arm twisted or hair pulled; and 8 percent reported being punched with his fist or with something that could hurt them or being kicked, dragged, or beaten up. Two percent of women reported that their husband tried to choke or burn them on purpose and 1 percent reported that their husband had threatened or attacked them with a knife, gun, or other weapon.
The form of sexual violence most commonly reported by women is that their husband used physical force to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (5 percent). Four percent reported that their husband forced them with threats or in other ways to perform sexual acts they did not want to, and 2 percent reported that their husband forced them to perform any sexual acts they did not want to.
The report shockingly revealed that women reporting emotional violence were most likely to report that their husband said or did something to humiliate in front of others (10 percent), followed by their husband insulting them or making them feel bad about themselves (9 percent). Six percent of women said that their husband threatened to hurt or harm them or someone close to them
Women’s experience of sexual violence is somewhat lower among younger women (4 percent each for women age 18-19 and 20-24, 6 percent for women age 25-29, and 7 percent for women age 30 and over). Experience of sexual violence decreases sharply with schooling, from 9 percent among women with no schooling to 3 percent among women with 12 or more years of schooling. Women’s experience of sexual violence declines similarly with wealth, from 10 percent among women in the lowest wealth quintile to 3 percent among women in the highest wealth quintile.
Widowed, divorced, separated, or deserted women and women from ‘other’ religions are far more likely than any other women to report having experienced sexual violence.
Sexual violence is most often committed by individuals with whom women have an intimate relationship. The most intimate human relationship is a marriage.