Times heals all wounds. Right? Wrong. When it comes to sexual assault, we’re in for the long run. A recent study published by Jama Internal Medicine shows that sexual violence or harassment can have far-reaching consequences on women’s health. Both the physical and mental health of middle-aged women are affected by trauma experienced decades before.
The study used 304 women from Pennsylvania between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. Of this sample, 22% had experienced sexual assault and 19% reported workplace sexual harassment. [These figures are significantly lower than national (USA) estimates.] It revealed the following:
Workplace sexual harassment was shown to be linked to higher blood pressure and hypertension, putting these women at risk for strokes, aneurysms and heart attacks, according to the The Independent. Survivors of sexual assault, on the other hand, are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, compared to those who have not experienced sexual assault.
Both groups were twice as likely to experience insomnia.
Previous studies have linked poor health in women with sexual assault, but according to The Cut, most of these studies relied on the participants’ accounts of their health. This recent study involved the professional medical assessment of the participants’ health (blood pressure measurements, medication records and medical histories), which provided a deeper understanding of the impact of sexual abuse and harassment.
The participants chosen for the study were all non-smokers, as the researchers wanted to eliminate external negative health factors. These were also all women who volunteered to share their traumas. As such, the study’s sample was ‘perhaps limited to only the best-adjusted, best-supported survivors,’ writes Katie Heany for The Cut.
This begs the question: what if the sample size wasn’t limited? What about the silent smoking survivors who don’t share their traumas? What about the ‘poorer adjusted’ survivors? We’ve only just began to uncover the extent of sexual abuse on our mental and physical health.
In light of the Brett Kavanaugh trial, with Dr Christine Blasey Ford reportedly still suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress, decades after her alleged assault, this study has come to us at the right time. Now in her fifties, this highly established woman still experiences symptoms of an incident that took place when she was a teenager.
If anything, my takeaway here is that we should talk to our doctors and other medical health professionals about our trauma histories, and about our experiences of sexual abuse, even if they were decades ago. It’s preferable that our doctors are aware of this as soon as possible and can look at managing our mental and physical conditions with full context.
Plus, although it should go without saying, we should BELIEVE SURVIVORS and take their testimonies seriously, no matter how old they are when they report.