Sexual Assault Can Damage Long-Term Mental Health


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.

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Photo from U.S. Military.


Christopher M.
Christopher M.5 years ago

Treating a girl like a sex doll! How barbaric! Especially from her own dad.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.5 years ago

It is possible that sexually abused men, and anecdotally even women as one told me, may have difficulties with children, whether they actually harm them or not. That is why abuse needs to be stopped, it spreads like a disease.

Leanne B.
Leanne B5 years ago

Lets hope Obama care allows more people to get the mental health needs met.

Janine H.
Janine H6 years ago

This is so terrible. Always when i hear about terrible things it makes me sad, and i cannot understand how someone could do something terrible - hurt, rape or kill a person or animal. When i was a child this also happened to me... and surviving this is more terrible than not (parents and other may think different, but a victim?), living with all this pain... living with guilty feelings... full with hate for the own self
No one can understand, because most people cannot imagine this, cannot imagine how much it change. Some of them think, that this would not be so terrible, because all would make some sexual experiences, and so it would not matter if there were some without own interest or wish. This cruel and superficial society makes me sick.

I know that it is not good to wish someone who does terrible things something as a punishment. But when i hear about violent people then i think why are they so "afraid" to go to someone equal and get some hits for their selves. This is a perversion, to think being more a man when beating a woman or a girl. This men are a shame for all normal men.

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

I think the true numbers are much greater. Most woman don't report sexual assault. I never have. It's been 7 and a half years since, and I have to live with the torment and repercussions every day. Bless all the victims out there. It it difficult beyond words to live after such a trauma, but remember--we are not alone.

Linda E.
Linda E6 years ago

Thanks to all of you who have contributed your own stories to validate the point that sexual assault can be a life-long problem.

Veronica C.
Veronica C6 years ago

It seems so obvious that sexual assault would leave emotion scars. It's hard to believe they weren't addressed properly already. And of course, not all of the emotional damage is obvious right away. Emotional damage can be suppressed for many years until something triggers them again. Help needs to be available to victims throughout their lives.

Lilithe Magdalene

It only happened to me twice, and at 41 I am still reeling from the effects. SO subtle, and so insidious.

Ashley N.
Ashley N6 years ago

This is so depressing, this crap has got to stop. We need to take more of a stand to end abuse. I notice a lot of support for ending animal abuse but not as much for child abuse or domestic violence. Please support local initiatives that try to end violence.

Naga Choegyal
Naga Choegyal6 years ago

Really! - BUT -
Remember that sexual violence includes all instances of molestation of minors; the majority of such events are perpetrated by trusted friends or relatives, not strangers.
Attempts to inform significant others are met with discounting by nearest and dearest who are unable to face up to unacceptable truths.
This creates a deep seated distrust in all human nature and relationships and the development of elaborate and neurotic coping strategies.
The memories lie buried in the sub-conscious where they have their insidious effect in undermining personal integrity.
Later lovers may be punished in subtle ways for the earlier transgressions of their criminal precursors, leading to the inabilty to form lasting strong and close intimacy and serial failure of relationships.
Women may seek unconsciously to be punished for their (wrongly) assumed collusion with earlier molestation, and also punish themselves for "enjoying" on one level an act they knew (as minors) deep down to be wrong.
Thus they may unconsciously seek out and provoke violent relationships; a well known coping strategy whereby traumatic scenarios are unconsciously re-enacted over and again in order to attempt mastery, reconciliation and healing.