Worldwide, 35 percent of all women 15 and older have suffered physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner. In the United States and Canada, 1 in 5 women reported being a victim.
The statistics come from the first-ever systematic study of available data on assaults against women, published Thursday in the journal Science. The data comes from 141 studies in 81 countries.
"These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions," said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, which partnered on the research with the London School of Hygiene and the South African Medical Research Council. "We also see that the world's health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence."
Violence often escalates, and 40 percent of women who are murdered die at the hands of an intimate partner. While those figures are stunning those who work with victims of domestic violence say they are, sadly, not surprised.
"Unfortunately, I've been doing this work for nearly 25 years now," said Carol Arthur, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Project in Minneapolis. "These statistics are statistics I know well, and unfortunately, they are not new."
Yet, Arthur does hope the numbers will finally grab attention and help affect change.
"It's a good thing if people see that and say, 'Wow, this is way too much,' because it is an epidemic and it's been going on way too long," she said. "The way we end domestic violence is by society saying, 'This is unacceptable. What do we do here?'"
The report provides some answers to that question by recommending that doctors and nurses aggressively screen women in the ER to stop abuse before it becomes murder.
"Thirty-seven percent of all women who go to emergency rooms for injuries are there because of domestic violence," Arthur said. "Research has indicated if medical professionals ask, frequently victims will tell."
Arthur explained that in Minneapolis, the number of domestic abuse 911 calls are down thanks to aggressive policing and prosecution, but the percentage of cases remains the same -- and it's still probably too low.
"We also know only one out of every three cases are going to be reported to the police," she said.
The authors note the rates of physical and sexual violence against women are likely higher than the reported statistics because women are often reluctant to report being a victim of domestic violence.
Some of the solution also must involve attacking what makes men abusive. In some part of the world, the roots are deep in cultures where women are considered property. Changing attitudes in those areas also requires changing laws.
Violence against women is especially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of women have been victimized -- the highest proportion of any global region.
"The prevalence is shockingly high," said lead author Karen Devries. "People in general will be surprised by the figure, since many forms of violence remain hidden from public view."
The Middle East and southeast Asia also have high rates of domestic violence, with an estimated 37 percent of women becoming victims in areas where fewer laws exist to protect them. Rates in Europe, Latin and South America fall somewhere between that rate and the 23 percent seen in the U.S.
Another factor in ending domestic violence globally involves child rearing and ensuring that children do not watch their mothers be abused. Experts say stopping domestic abuse now helps stem it in future generations.
The report calls for "a greater focus on primary prevention" and described the efforts and policies of preventing violence against women as still being "in its nascence."
A United Nations report shows 125 countries have laws against domestic violence, meaning it's still not a defined crime in 70 countries.