General Medicine

The Effects of Sexual Violence on Health

By Charles Li MD

January 11, 2019

  • A recent study has found that sexual harassment and sexual assault are significantly associated with worse health indicators.

  • Sexual harassment is not only harmful mentally, but also may lead to medical consequences as well, particularly high blood pressure.

  • The CDC continues to find a high prevalence of sexual assault against both men and women.

Effect of Sexual Assault on Health

The effects of sexual assault on health

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied a group of 304 middle aged women to see whether sexual harassment and sexual assault were significantly correlated to health indicators and outcomes.

Unlike many past studies, these women had not signed up initially for a study on sexual harassment and assult, but rather a medical study on menopause, which makes this study less susceptable to selection bias.

22% of the patients in the study had reported a history of sexual assault.

Researchers estimated that these patients had nearly triple the risk of depression compared to women without a history of sexual harassment, and more the double the risk of anxiety and poor sleep. All three effects were highly statistically significant.

Effect of Workplace Sexual Harassment on Health

The effects of workplace sexual harassment on health

While the psychological effects of workplace sexual harassment are relatively well known, the physical effects of sexual harassment have not been rigorously studied until recently.

Not surprisingly to some, this study found that workplace sexual harassment was more than just an annoyance, it also led to real symptoms.

They found that 19% of the patients had reported a history of workplace sexual harassment. These patients were found to have a significantly higher prevalence of sleep issues and high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is associated with a significantly higher risk of death.

The patients also had a possibly higher risk of depression, however this was slightly below significance threshold. (p=0.06)

Prevalence of Sexual Assault in Women

Data on sexual assault in women as of 2019

The CDC monitors the prevalence of sexual assault in America.

Based on their data, approximately 44% of American women have experienced some type of sexual violence. This includes unwanted sexual contact, rape attempts, sexual coercion, and/or penetration.

If further research confirms that sexual assault doubles or triples a person's risk of depression, anxiety, and poor sleep, then it's plausable that a significant portion of the mental health burden we have in our society today can attributed to sexual violence.

Prevalence of Sexual Assault in Men

Data on sexual assault in men as of 2019

A significant number of men also had experienced some type of sexual violence. While the proportion is lower at 25% vs 44% in women, it certainly warrents further study into the effects of sexual assault in men.

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