Impact of Abuse is Far-Reaching

Rape affects every aspect of life

(RxWiki News) The long-term psychological effects of rape are not news. But women who are raped often suffer in many less obvious and unseen ways.

A recent study aimed to find out what the personal costs of rape are for women.

Researchers discovered sexual assault touches every area of women's life, and women should reach out to mental health therapists for support.

"Seek help for rape."

The study was led by Carin Perilloux, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Perilloux knew that research has already linked the experience of rape or attempted rape with a higher risk of depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

So she and her colleague looked at 13 specific other areas of women's lives that may have altered after a rape or attempted rape.

They interviewed 140 women, 49 of whom who had been raped and 91 who had had an attempted sexual assault.

Each woman rated how they had changed after their sexual assault experience in the 13 different areas of her personal life.

The areas measured included each woman's health, self-esteem, family relationships, work life, social life, social reputation, sexual reputation, desire to have sex and the quality of her long-term relationships.

The women also rated how often they had sex, whether they enjoyed sex, how they perceived their own attractiveness and the value they placed on their potential partners.

Each of these areas was rated by the women on a scale from -3 to 3, with 0 representing no change from before the experience to after it.

The women also wrote about their sexual assault experiences in their own words.

Unsurprisingly, all the victims reported negative effects in all 13 areas investigated in the study.

The areas where women suffered the most included their self-esteem, their sexual reputation, how often they had sex or wanted to have sex and how much they valued or desired a possible mate.

The researchers found that women who had been victims of a completed rape reported significantly worse difficulties in 11 of these areas compared to the women who had been victim of an attempted rape.

"These findings document that victims of sexual assault, and even victims of attempted sexual assault, suffer psychological and social costs more far ranging than previously suspected," Dr. Perilloux said in an release about the study.

The study was limited because it relied on the self-reporting of the women and the women were primarily in their late teens and early 20s.

Additional studies would be necessary to see if the responses vary for older women.

However, one important finding was that even women who experienced an attempted sexual assault rather than a "completed" rape still suffered in all areas.

"Although the effects that the attempted group experienced were not perceived to be as costly as those experienced by completed rape victims, victims of attempted sexual assault nonetheless reported significantly negative effects in their lives," the authors wrote.

LuAnn Pierce, a clinical social worker in Colorado, pointed out that victims of any kind of sexual violence can suffer for years.

"Sexual assault takes away your power and your sense of self. Victims of completed or attempted sexual assault often report that they never view themselves the same after that experience," Pierce said. "The aftermath of sexual assault is fraught with conflicting emotions that can linger for years."

She said the effects have been shown to contribute to physical ailments as well.

"The stress associated with a violation of that kind changes the brain in ways that can result in a lifetime of physical pain, psychosocial challenges and relationship problems," she said. "Many of the mysterious health problems of our time are rooted in past trauma that manifests in the body for years after the event."

It is critical that we do whatever is necessary to protect women and girls from these experiences, and support the agencies, policies and providers who help through the long healing process," Pierce added.

The study was published October 6 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Information was unavailable regarding funding and disclosures.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2012