Background: Sexual violence against women is common. The prevalence appears to be higher in north America than Europe. However, not all surveys have differentiated the experience of forced sex by a current or former partner. Few women are thought to report these experiences to their general practitioner (GP).
Aim: To measure the prevalence of rape, sexual assault, and forced sexual intercourse by a partner among women attending general practices, to test the association between these experiences of sexual violence and demographic factors, and to assess the acceptability to women of screening for sexual violence by GPs.
Design of study: Cross-sectional survey.
Method: A self-administered questionnaire survey of 1207 women aged over 15 years was carried out in 13 general practices in Hackney, east London.
Results: Eight per cent (95% confidence interval [CI] = 6.2 to 9.6) of women have experienced rape, 9% (95% CI = 7.0 to 10.6) another type of sexual assault, and 16% (95% CI = 13.6 to 18.1) forced sex by a partner in adulthood: 24% (95% CI = 21.2 to 26.5) have experienced one or more of these types of sexual violence. Experiences of sexual violence demonstrated high levels of lifetime co-occurrence. Women forced to have sex by partners experienced the most severe forms of domestic violence. One in five women would object to routine questioning about being raped and/or sexually assaulted, and one in nine about being forced to have sex by a partner.
Conclusion: Experiences of sexual violence are common in the lives of adult women in east London, and they represent a significant public health problem. Those women who have one experience appear to be at risk of being victims again. A substantial minority object to routine questions about sexual violence.