There’s a violent epidemic plaguing mental health patients: rape. According to a new report out of Brazil, about one in five patients with a mental illness report being the victims of sexual violence. Women experience sexual violence more than men, but the numbers across the board are shocking.
The report focused on the epidemic in Brazil, but given what we already know about rape and the under-reporting of attacks, there’s no reason to think these numbers are isolated simply to that country or that they are not actually higher. According to the report 26.6% of women and 12.5% of men with mental illnesses reported experiencing sexual violence at some point in their lives.
The study looked at 2475 patients, age 18 and up, from 11 psychiatric hospitals and 15 psychosocial care outpatient centers in Brazil. Participants in the study were interviewed about their experiences of sexual violence, which those conducting the survey defined as being forced to have unwanted sexual relations or having any kind of abuse of a sexual nature against their will.
Not surprisingly, women reported a majority of those assaults came from someone they knew. The same was true for men, though at a slightly lower rates.
The factors that contributed to the incidents of sexual violence underscore the challenges men and women living with mental illness face on a daily basis. Among women, factors independently associated with sexual violence included younger age (18-40 years), living alone, a history of homelessness, previous psychiatric hospitalization, a history of lifetime sexual diseases, a diagnosis of depression or schizophrenia/psychosis, a sexual “debut” age of less than 16 years, a lifetime of irregular condom use, and receiving or being offered money for sex. Among men, younger age (18-40 years), previous psychiatric hospitalization, age at first hospitalization of less than 18 years, lifetime use of marijuana or cocaine, a diagnosis of depression or schizophrenia/other psychosis, and receiving or being offered money for sex were independently associated with sexual violence.
The take away from a study like this is that sexual violence is an epidemic across the world and that mental illness is one factor that increases the likelihood of experiencing sexual violence in a person’s lifetime. That means that sexual violence should be treated as a public health epidemic and not just a crime.
Photo from bahadorjn via flickr.