Startling Effects of Repeated Sexual Assault
A new study conducted by the University of Missouri finds that those who experience repeated sexual assault are significantly more likely to develop psychological problems such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Bryana French, one of the researchers who spearheaded the study, points out that this was only one of a few studies that focus on types of sexual assault that fall outside of the narrow forcible rape definition. The researchers broadened their scope to include offenses like verbal coercion, substance-induced assault, and forcible rape.
Our research focuses on those individuals who receive multiple forms of unwanted sexual advances and the psychological toll those experiences take on the victims.
In general, studies revolving around the topic of sexual assault hone in primarily on violent rape. One of reasons that a study looking at various forms of sexual assault is so necessary is that it could help identify other means of abuse that could lead to potentially lifelong psychological issues. The problems often caused by sexual assault include an increase in risky sexual behavior, lower self-esteem and elevated psychological distress. A better understanding of these incidents, whom they affect, and the issues they lead to can also help develop preventative measures, as psychological damage often results from these unwanted acts.
All Types of Sexual Assault Vs. Forcible Rape Alone
According to studies, there is a huge increase of individuals who have experienced any sort of sexual assault versus violent rape alone. Past findings indicate that one in five adult women and one in 100 adult men have reported being raped. The prevalence increases to two in five among women and one in five among men who report experiencing other forms of sexual violence, such as repeated unwanted sexual contact and sexual coercion.
Repeated victimization, according to a scholarly article on the website for the National Institutes of Health, is disturbingly common. Of the 433 survey respondents, two-thirds reported repeat incidents of sexual assaults. Though not always the case, these are often committed by the same perpetrator.
What Psychological Damage Can Repeated Sexual Assaults Cause?
A study conducted in 2012 found that the chances of a woman is seven times more likely to develop PTSD if she has experienced repeated episodes of sexual violence. Findings in an issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that in addition to a greater risk of developing PTSD, those who were victims of sexual assault could more easily develop anxiety disorders, depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, and are more likely to attempt suicide.
The good news for patients is that physicians are now more aware of the link between abuse and psychiatric illness so that abuse survivors may be more readily identified and referred to specialists for treatment. We hope that heightened awareness in clinical practice leads to improved outcomes for our patients.
-Ali Zirakzadeh, M.D., principal investigator of the Mayo Clinic study
How Can We Move Towards Ending Sexual Assault?
Bryana French suggests that the information gained from this study can help start a conversation among parents, adolescents and school administrators on the importance of consent and what steps to take to encourage preventative behavior.
Various websites discuss tips for preventing sexual assaults in various situations. For example, a page on West Virginia University’s website lists tips on staying safe such as “avoiding secluded places” and “practicing self-defense.” Perhaps equipping people with techniques to avoid sexual assault and educating others on the dangerous effects that these acts can cause will help reduce the number of individuals affected.
Marisa Mostek (@MarisaJ44) loves globetrotting and writing, so she is living the dream by writing while living abroad in Japan and working as an English teacher. Marisa received her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado in Boulder and a certificate in journalism from UCLA. Contact Marisa at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured Image Courtesy of [Keirsten Marie via Flickr]