In 2014, the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) conducted one of the first nationally representative studies to determine the extent of violence and abuse in Norway. In line with international studies, the findings showed that violence and abuse affect a significant proportion of the Norwegian population. From a public health perspective, it is important to both prevent violence and combat its consequences, as studies show that violence increases the risk of physical and mental health problems, social problems, reduced participation in working life, and problems relating to substance abuse. It also has considerable socioeconomic costs. Through the Istanbul Convention, Norway has committed to conduct regular surveys concerning interpersonal violence. The need for a new prevalence study on violence and abuse is highlighted in the Government’s action plan for preventing and combating interpersonal violence 2021–2024, and in the action plan to combat rape 2019–2022.
The current study was conducted by NKVTS as part of a research programme on domestic violence (2019–2024), with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security as the main source of funding. Part-funding has also come from the Ministry of Health and Care Services, the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion, the Ministry of Children and Families, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the Ministry of Culture and Equality. The study was approved by the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics.
Participants in the study were drawn from the National Population Register, matched with their telephone number, sent an information letter and then contacted by telephone with a request for participation. A total of 2,100 women, 2,195 men, and four non-binary people aged 18–74 responded to the survey. The participants were selected in quotas according to the number of men and women in different age groups residing in each county. A total of 26 % of those who answered the phone participated. In addition to the main survey, a separate sample of persons with an immigrant background was selected, with ‘immigrant background’ being defined as having parents who were both born outside Scandinavia. A total of 429 men and 373 women participated in this immigrant survey. If the participant wanted, the survey was conducted in English.
In order to produce comparable prevalence rates, the main survey was largely conducted in the same way as in 2014. The same direct and behavioural specific questions concerning experiences of violence and abuse in childhood and adulthood were used. The telephone interviews were conducted by Ipsos. However, there are a number of important conditions to be aware of when comparing the figures. These are referred to in the methodology chapter (Chapter 4) and the comparison chapter (Chapter 15).
Prevalence of violence and abuse
The prevalence of violence in Norway remains high. A large proportion of both women and men have been victims of violence, and there are differences between the sexes with regards to the type of violence they have been subjected to, as well as to their relationship to the perpetrator.
Various forms of rape and other types of sexual abuse are particularly prevalent among women, but they also occur among approximately one in twenty Norwegian men. More than one in ten women (14%) report having been victims of rape through force or coercion at least once in their lifetime. The same applies to rape carried out while the victim was intoxicated or asleep, referred to in this report as ‘incapacitated rape’ (11 %). Around one in twenty women (5 %) were raped before the age of 13 by a person who were five years older or more. Overall, the majority of women who have been victims of rape have been raped more than once during their lifetime. This may be linked to the fact that women are likely to be raped by someone they know, often a current or former partner. It is primarily men who are reported as perpetrators of rape, even when the victim is a man. Among both men and women, many report that they experienced abuse for the first time before they had reached the age of 18 (this applied to about half of women who have been victims of rape by force or coercion).
Almost one in five women (18 %) reported to have been subjected to at least one form of sexual abuse other that rape, at least once in their lifetime. Among men, one in twenty were subjected to this.
Online sexual abuse is a new form of violence that we are examining in this survey. This type of abuse was not measured in the last survey. One in twenty reported that they had been the victim of online sexual abuse. The gender differences are not as evident as for the other types of violence and abuse.
However, there are gender differences with regards to the type of online sexual abuse experienced. Men are subjected to threats of sharing sexual images of them to the same extent as women, while women have experienced actual image sharing or been filmed or photographed during a sexual act against their will to a somewhat greater extent than men. Where the identity of the perpetrator is known, it is most frequently stated that this is a person who is in a close relationship with the victim or someone whom the person knows. About one in four women and one in five men who experienced online sexual abuse, do not know the identity of the perpetrator. There is a considerable overlap between having been a victim of online sexual abuse and having been a victim of violence and abuse offline. Between 40 and 60 % of those who report to have been victims of online sexual abuse have also experienced rape through force/coercion or incapacitated rape, other sexual abuse, serious physical violence, or controlling behaviour from a partner.
In this report, physical violence refers to both serious and less serious physical violence experienced after the age of 18. Severity refers to the potential for physical harm caused by the violence, but it is important to note that less severe physical violence can also be experienced as being very painful and offensive. Almost 40 % of the respondents reported that they had been victims of at least one form of severe physical violence since they reached the age of 18. This applies to almost half of all men in the survey, who experience this type of violence more frequently than women. However, more women than
men experienced repeated incidents of severe physical violence. This may be linked to the perpetrators women and men respectively reported. Severe physical violence inflicted by a boy- or girlfriend, partner or former partner is far more prevalent among women than among men. A higher proportion of women than men state that they were afraid of being injured or killed when they experienced the severe physical violence, although more men report actual physical injuries as a result of the violence. Men are most often cited as being the perpetrators of severe physical violence, regardless of whether the victim is male or female. The prevalence of less severe physical violence was measured only for the last year, and a relatively low proportion of both men and women report having experienced this form of violence over the past
year. Somewhat more men than women have experienced this form of physical violence, and almost half of the men report their partner or former partner as being the perpetrator.
When we studied violence that occurs in a romantic relationship (known as intimate partner violence) more systematically, a general picture emerged that women are subjected to severe violence by their partner more frequently than men. One in ten women have been subjected to severe physical violence from their partner, while three percent of men report the same from their partner. One in twenty women have been raped by their partner. Women and men are approximately equally exposed to controlling behaviour from a partner. Men are more often exposed to less severe physical intimate partner violence than women.
In addition to having considerable potential to cause injury in itself, experiencing violence or abuse during childhood is a known risk factor for experiencing violence in adult life. In this survey, approximately one in ten report to have experienced severe physical violence by a parent or caregiver during childhood. The prevalence is about the same as regards to having experienced one parent inflict physical violence on the other. One in three suffered less severe physical violence. More women than men report experiencing sexual abuse during their childhood, both at home and outside the home. About one in five were victims of at least one instance of sexual abuse during childhood. One in five report that they were victims of bullying
by their peers during their childhood.
Repeated experiences involving several forms of violence and sexual abuse
One in ten reported that they had experienced more than one form of violence or sexual abuse during their adult life. Exposure to more than one form of violence is commonly referred to as multivictimization. Women experienced multivictimization more often than men. Related to this is having been the victim of violence during different life phases, often referred to as revictimization. About one in five victims of childhood violence had also experienced violence as an adult.
Experience of reporting cases to the police and of help-seeking
The police were aware that violence had occurred in only one in five cases concerning the victims of rape, incapacitated rape and/or online sexual abuse, and in one in three cases among victims of severe physical violence. The most frequently reported reasons for not reporting violence were that the violence was not considered to be serious enough, that the victim did not wish to involve the police, and the possible negative psychosocial consequences of reporting. Even where the police are aware of the violence, very few cases end up in court. Only a minority of victims received medical examination or medical treatment the first days or weeks after experiencing severe violence or abuse, and less than half had ever spoken to health personnel about the violence they had suffered.
Violence, socio-demographics and mental health
Exposure to violence is closely linked with sociodemographic factors such as education, economy and marital status. In line with this, severe violence occurred more frequently among persons who were divorced or separated, who had no education beyond secondary school, and/or who felt that they were not as well off financially as most other people.
People who were victims of violence tended to experience more symptoms of anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress reactions. The more forms of violence that a person had been subjected to, the more psychological symptoms were reported. Persons who had experienced violence both during childhood and as adults had the greatest symptom burden.
Violence and abuse among immigrants
It proved to be challenging to recruit participants to the sample of respondents with an immigrant background, and the response rate in this sample was considerably lower than in the main survey (14 % compared with 26 % in the main sample). When comparing living conditions in our main sample with the living conditions among immigrants in Norway, it becomes clear that our participants are a selected group. The sample with an immigrant background in our study reported a high level of education and employment, and is probably not representative of the immigrant population as such. Moreover, this sample was very similar to the main sample in terms of socioeconomic factors, such as marital status, education and perceived financial situation. This is reflected in the prevalence of violence and sexual abuse in this group, which was approximately the same as in the main sample. Similar socioeconomic factors were associated with exposure to violence in the group with an immigrant background.
Comparison of prevalence of violence for 2014 and 2023
The results show that respondents in our study (the 2023 study) responded to a greater extent to have been victims of rape through the use of force and coercion, severe physical violence and severe physical partner violence compared to in the 2014 study. These differences were statistically significant among women, but not among men. With regard to age, we find that, among the youngest women (the 18–29 age group), the extent of rape is more than twice that encountered in the 2014 study. For men, we found an increase in reports of rape through force and coercion in the youngest age group, and an increase in reports of severe physical violence for some of the older age groups in 2023 compared to in the 2014 study. There was a lower prevalence of less severe physical violence among both women and men in 2023, compared with 2014.
Violence and abuse are persistent and serious social problems in Norway. The prevalence is still high in the Norwegian population, and the findings from this survey point to key focus areas as regards to preventing and combating violence and abuse in Norway.
Men and women report to an extent different forms of violence, and women are more exposed than men to violence that is considered particularly severe: repeated violence, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse, such as rape and online sexual abuse. Women are also more often victims of several types of violence. The gender differences revealed in this study support the notion that violence against women remain a gender equality problem. Reducing the prevalence of these serious forms of violence is vital and should be a priority. The fact that this study reported a higher prevalence of several severe types of violence among women than in the previous study is of concern and underscores the need for further prevention.
Although men are less exposed to severe violence in close relationships than women, they are more often subjected to severe physical violence in public spaces. This type of violence is associated with a high risk of injuries and must also be prevented. This type of violence has received less attention in the political debate on violence, perhaps with the exception of discussions regarding youth and gang violence.
Few victims reported that the perpetrator was convicted, even in cases where the police were aware of the violence. Victims of violence reported a number of barriers to reporting their case to the police. As the criminal prosecution of violence and abuse largely depends on victims reporting to the police, it will be crucial to implement measures that help and encourage the victims of violence to contact the police. On the other hand, not every victim wants to report their case, and not all cases of violence can be handled by the police and the legal system. Many other societal responses to violence are important, such as detecting cases of violence at an early stage, preventing further violence, and preventing violence in the first place.
Violence and abuse affect people from all walks of life, but appear to occur more frequently among those with a low level of education and/or poor finances and who are divorced or separated. However, it is not possible in this study to determine whether being the victim of violence leads to lower socioeconomic living conditions, or whether such conditions result in a greater risk of violence and both interpretations may be true. The finding that violence and abuse occur more frequently among people who face challenges with regards to their living conditions is an important signal to the authorities that efforts to reduce such challenges and increase participation in society will also help to prevent violence and support victims.
The finding that about one in four adults report being the victim of severe violence in their childhood home, or sexual abuse in and/or outside the home during their childhood, also means that many Norwegians enter adulthood with a significant burden of violence. The study finds that these experiences entail a vulnerability to becoming a victim of further violence, and to experiencing mental health problems as an adult. Preventing violence against children and providing help and support to vulnerable children at an early stage will probably have a considerable preventive effect with regard to preventing future exposure to violence and health problems.