Prevention Tuesday – The Links Between Sexual Violence and Mental Health Issues

In Education, Prevention on May 1, 2012 at 5:00 am

For the month of May, we will be focusing on the links between sexual assault and mental health. Being assaulted can have many varied and profound impacts on the mental well being of a survivor. Some possible issues include:


– Depression

-Suicidal ideation

-Alcohol and drug abuse


-Disordered eating

It’s important to be aware of these possible impacts and make sure that you seek help for yourself, or for someone you know who might be experiencing these problems as a result of assault. Here are some quick facts on mental health and sexual assault:

From the World Report on Violence and Health:

  • “In one population-based study, the prevalence of symptoms or signs suggestive of a psychiatric disorder was 33% in women with a history of sexual abuse as adults, 15% in women with a history of physical violence by an intimate partner and 6% in non-abused women (163).”
  • “A study of adolescents in France also found a relationship between having been raped and current sleep difficulties, depressive symptoms, somatic complaints, tobacco consumption and behavioral problems (such as aggressive behaviour, theft and truancy) (163).”
  • “Women who experience sexual assault in childhood or adulthood are more likely to attempt or commit suicide than other women. The association remains, even after controlling for sex, age, education, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and the presence of psychiatric disorders (163).”


From New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence’s fact sheet “Sexual Assault: The Mental Health Impact”:

  • “A study of 1400 adult female twins found that women who had been raped as girls were three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs than their twins who had not been sexually abused (1).”
  • “A review of 166 studies between 1985 and 1997 found that, compared to boys who were never abused, sexually abused boys were four times more likely to suffer from major depression, three times more likely to be bulimic, and at least two times more likely to have antisocial personality disorder, behavioral problems, low self image, or runaway behavior. In addition, sexually abused boys were one and a half to fourteen times more likely to attempt suicide (1).”
  • “In the nationally representative Survey of Women’s Health by the Commonwealth Fund in 1998, women who experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner were four to five times more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety than women who did not experience violence (1).”

While these statistics are sobering, there are things that can be done to help those who are suffering.  According to a New York City study, victims who met with a representative from a rape crisis center during their initial emergency room visit reported the fastest recovery from psychological injuries and return to a normal daily routine (Sexual Assault: The Mental Health Impact, 2). By helping those who have been affected by sexual violence early on, we can help them to begin the healing process faster. Reaching out is the first step, and it’s important that we take it!






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