The magnitude, consequences, and costs of sexual violence towards women and children are alarming (Hillis et al, 2016). The World Health Organization reports that 35% of women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual intimate or non-partner violence in their lifetime (2017); and up to one billion children have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past 12 months (2018). Such violence results in victims suffering significant health problems, including unintended pregnancy, gynaecological complications, and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV); trauma, depression, eating disorders, substance misuse, and suicide attempts. Women often suffer breakdowns in relationships, stigmatisation, isolation, and may be unable to work and look after their children; in addition, the children's cognitive, social, and emotional development is often compromised. While subjective and personal costs to individual victims are clearly great, because of the scale and complexity of sexual violence, economic costs grow exponentially. After (and if) preliminary medical costs are met, the needs of victims extend beyond physical assistance; they require mental health and welfare support, they face unemployment and poor housing, they often need treatment for drug and alcohol problems, and find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, and so on. Thus, from an individual, social, and economic perspective, sexual violence against women and children must be prevented from occurring in the first place.
Efforts to prevent sexual violence against women and children can be evidenced by many local, national, and global initiatives. In 2016, the World Health Organization published its Global Plan of Action to address global violence against women and children. The strategy calls for a nationwide public health multi-sectoral response. Member states are expected to provide health systems with clear leadership and governance, deliver capable and resourced services to citizens, ensure prevention dominates and drives policy, and facilitate efforts to generate information and produce evidence across a broad range of sectors involved in violence prevention. To this end, this present collection aims to respond to one of the four strategic themes of the Global Plan of Action. One theme calls on member states to ‘21. Facilitate efforts by nongovernmental organizations, researchers and others to conduct research on key knowledge gaps on VAWG1 and harmful practices, and to develop, pilot and evaluate interventions to address VAWG’ (World Health Organization, 2016: 23).