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Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Overview of gender based violence

Gender based violence (GBV) is a major public health, equality and human rights issue. It covers a spectrum of violence and abuse, committed primarily but not exclusively against women by men. This includes, but is not limited to

  • domestic abuse
  • rape and sexual assault
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • stalking and harassment
  • commercial sexual exploitation
  • harmful practices - such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ based violence.

Here you can find information on the relationship between GBV and health inequalities, as well as national and local actions that can be taken to address GBV in Scotland.

  • 79% of domestic abuse incidents reported in 2016-2017 had a female victim and male perpetrator.
  • 20% of women and almost 8% of men have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.
  • 20% of women and 4% of men experience sexual assault as adults.
  • 78% of forced marriages in the UK involved female victims.
  • 50% of women in prostitution become involved at the age of 18 or younger.
  • 28% of all cases referred to the National Referral Mechanism for human trafficking involved potential victims of sexual exploitation.
  • There are clear links between stalking and domestic abuse as 36% of stalking and harassment cases had also experienced domestic abuse.

You can find more data on GBV at the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) (external site).

GBV and health inequalities

GBV occurs across all levels of society.

Gender inequality is a root cause of violence against women and girls. Despite the progress being made, persistent inequalities remain between men and women. Globally, two factors related to gender inequality are strongly associated with GBV.

  1. Social norms supporting violence as a means of conflict resolution.
  2. The unequal position of women in relationships and society – violence occurs at higher levels in societies in which men are viewed as superior and possess the economic and decision making power. 

It is important however, to recognise that abuse also occurs in same sex relationships and can be experienced by transgender people. While men are at less risk of GBV, some men are abused in similar ways by other men and women. Similarly, many boys are sexually abused in childhood.

Not everyone experiences the same level of risk. Factors such as age, financial dependency, poverty, disability, homelessness and insecure immigration status can heighten vulnerability to abuse or further entrap people experiencing abuse. Also, many people experience more than one form of abuse e.g. sexual violence and domestic abuse within relationships.

The physical, emotional and psychological consequences of GBV can be profound and damaging. They are predictors of poor health and strong risk factors for poor health outcomes.

National actions

Interventions that are most likely to be effective in reducing health inequalities in relation to GBV include

  • changes to fiscal policies
  • the promotion of gender equality
  • structural changes to the relative positions of women and men in society.

To find out more about the nature of GBV, its impact on health and how to respond you can download our guidance on what health workers need to know about GBV.

Equally Safe strategy

The Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy aims to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. It recognises the need for a broad range of actions to address GBV and is designed to




  • deliver greater gender equality
  • ensure a swift, robust response to perpetrators of violence and abuse
  • promote early, effective intervention to prevent violence or mitigate its impact.

National Gender Based Violence and Health Programme

Our National Gender Based Violence and Health Programme supports NHSScotland’s implementation of Equally Safe. It works with NHS Boards to promote activity to improve the identification and management of GBV, and to enhance workforce capacity to respond. It also works with Scottish Government colleagues to integrate GBV within key strategy and policy developments.

GBV Employee PIN Policy

There is a national employee policy on GBV designed to support staff with previous or current experience of any form of GBV. The policy also provides guidance on responding to allegations of GBV by members of staff.

Violence against women is a public health issue

On 25 November 2019, NHS Health Scotland, COSLA and the Improvement Service held a national conference, with support from the Public Health Reform team and the National Violence Against Women Network, to address violence against women (VAW) as a public health issue. You can read their briefing note Violence against women is a public health issue (external site).

The event explored opportunities to adopt a public health approach to tackling VAW and gender inequality in Scotland and to embed this in work on Scotland’s public health priorities (external site).

Local actions

At a community level, reducing abuse often involves multiple exposure to a range of interventions over time. Proven interventions that support longer term prevention of abuse include

  • early years interventions
  • school based programmes
  • support and outreach to enhance protection and reduce re-victimisation
  • collaboration between agencies to provide a coordinated response with a focus on increased identification (e.g. routine enquiry) and provision of tailored advocacy.

Our inequalities briefing details the steps Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) can take to address GBV.

Support services for the public

Members of the public can be directed towards Scotland’s Service Directory on NHS inform which provides information on