A new study of Australian women from the Journal of American Medicine reveals what, to women’s rights activists, should be obvious: Experiencing sexual violence can severely damage long-term mental health.
A shocking 27% of the 4,451 women who were surveyed in 2007 said that they had been the victim of at least one instance of gender-based violence. Over half the women who had experienced some kind of abuse reported a history of depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse or anxiety, compared to 28% of women who had not been subjected to violence.
Although the connection between mental health problems and sexual violence may seem obvious, experts say it’s crucial to understand just how closely linked they appear to be. ”The extent and strength of the association we found was surprising and very concerning,” said Dr. Susan Rees, the study’s lead author.
According to Rees, there is “ample evidence” to support the theory that interpersonal violence causes mental health disorders. She added that because the rate of sexual violence in the United States is similar to that of Australia, a study conducted in the U.S. would probably have similar results.
In this context, it’s completely understandable why the women’s health services that insurance companies are newly required to cover without a co-pay include domestic violence counseling and screenings. Sexual violence has long-term as well as short-term health consequences, and medical professionals need to be aware of the long-term risks when they treat women who have experienced abuse.
Photo from U.S. Military.