Sexual assault, harassment linked with long-term health problems in women

Women in mid-life who are survivors of sexual assault and harassment can experience long-term physical and mental health problems including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, according to a new study.

Co-authored by Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, the study looked at 304 women between the ages of 40 and 60. In that group, 19% reported experiencing sexual harassment, 22% reported experiencing sexual assault, and 10% reported both. Sexual assault survivors were three times more likely to experience depression and twice as likely to have more anxiety than women who hadn’t been sexually assaulted. Those reporting either sexual assault or harassment were twice as likely to have sleep issues. And those who reported workplace sexual harassment had higher blood pressure—enough to put them at risk for stroke, aneurysms, kidney disease, and heart attacks—than women who didn’t experience harassment at work.

Koenen said in an October 3, 2018 HealthDay article that the study findings suggest “that sexual assault and harassment may need to be screened as significant health risk factors by primary care physicians, the way physicians often screen patients for depression or smoking.”

Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, who was not involved in the study, told CNN, “In a sense, the body is telling the story. Not everyone is able and willing to identify what happened to them, but that doesn’t prevent the body from having opinions about it and expressing them.”

Read the HealthDay article: Sexual Assault Has Long-Term Mental, Physical Impact

Read the CNN article: Sexual assault and harassment linked to long-term health problems for women, study says

Read a article: Sexual harassment and assault can affect women’s health for years, Pitt study suggests