Sexual assault and harassment linked to long-term health problems for women, study says

High blood pressure. Anxiety. Depression. Insomnia. These are just a few of the possible long-term health co...

Posted: Oct 4, 2018 12:43 AM
Updated: Oct 4, 2018 12:43 AM

High blood pressure. Anxiety. Depression. Insomnia. These are just a few of the possible long-term health consequences facing mid-life women who had experienced sexual assault and harassment, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

With the nation's focus on accusations of sexual misconduct, it's a sobering reminder of the health toll that any form of sexual abuse can take.

Cardiovascular disease

Chronic diseases

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Crimes against persons

Criminal offenses

Demographic groups

Discrimination

Diseases and disorders

Females (demographic group)

Health and medical

Heart disease

Hypertension

Population and demographics

Sex crimes

Sexual assault

Sexual harassment

Sexual misconduct

Societal issues

Society

"In a sense, the body is telling the story," said Nancy Krieger, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor who was not involved in the new study. "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."

Significant health consequences

The study included 304 nonsmoking women between the ages of 40 and 60. Nineteen percent of the women reported experiencing sexual harassment, 22% reported experiencing sexual assault, and 10% reported both.

Women in the study who reported prior sexual assault were three times more likely to experience depression and twice as likely to have elevated anxiety than women without a history of sexual trauma, said senior study author Rebecca Thurston, professor of psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Those who experienced either sexual assault or harassment were twice as likely to have sleep problems, including insomnia, the study found.

Women who reported workplace sexual harassment had higher blood pressure than women who did not, at levels significant enough to put them at risk for stroke, aneurysms, kidney disease, heart attacks and other forms of heart disease.

Sexual harassment was also linked to higher levels of triglycerides, Thurston said, a key risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading killer of women in the United States.

Though not able to claim a direct cause and effect relationship between sexual abuse and the health impact, the observational results were intriguing, Thurston said, especially the impact of workplace sexual harassment on women's health.

"There was a lack of striking differences in the health outcomes between women who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed," she said, "which speaks to the universality of these types of experiences."

Sexual trauma and poor health

More than one in three women have experienced sexual assault, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and up to 75% of women are estimated to have experienced workplace sexual harassment.

In prior research, women have self-reported what they believed to be negative effects of sexual abuse. The list is long and includes asthma, arthritis, digestive, heart and immunity issues, migraines and chronic pain.

But self-reporting by sexual abuse survivors can be biased by factors such as mood, memory and awareness of health conditions, Thurston said.

The new study used clinical measurements for blood pressure, depression, anxiety and sleep to more objectively measure the impact of sexual trauma, she said.

A study by Krieger over a decade ago also clinically measured blood pressure. That study had looked at more than a thousand low-income, racially diverse workers. It too found sexual harassment to be linked to hypertension.

"That's in the category of something that is completely preventable," Krieger said, adding that more research in this area is critical.

"The fact that our study, published 10 years ago, was the only other study that's actually had data on measured physical health outcomes of self-reported experiences of sexual harassment is pretty telling," she said. "In fact, it's absurd."

Both Thurston and Krieger recommend that women who have experienced any sort of sexual abuse find a health care provider and get the care they need.

"If they have issues going on with, for example, high blood pressure, there may be roots to that in addition to whatever else is going on in their lives that could potentially be contributing to high blood pressure," Krieger said.

Thurston offered this advice: "If you are a health care provider, recognize that these experiences can have implications for your patient's health. If you are a victim of assault or harassment, don't suffer through it. Get help. If you can, change the situation or remove yourself from it."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 155246

Reported Deaths: 4065
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion25151785
Lake13570355
St. Joseph9145161
Elkhart8759135
Allen8129228
Hamilton6117113
Vanderburgh576760
Tippecanoe369515
Hendricks3268133
Monroe325738
Porter313649
Johnson3105128
Clark293961
Delaware293274
Vigo260538
Madison235093
Cass224022
LaPorte222858
Warrick192965
Kosciusko182625
Floyd179167
Howard162466
Bartholomew141558
Dubois138626
Marshall137426
Wayne126930
Henry125429
Grant125339
Boone122250
Hancock118245
Noble115933
Jackson112915
Dearborn94928
Morgan93740
Lawrence87436
Daviess87133
Gibson87111
Clinton84716
Shelby81730
LaGrange80115
Harrison76224
Knox75610
Putnam72816
Posey7146
DeKalb71011
Fayette66618
Steuben6278
Miami6095
Jasper5945
White58515
Montgomery58322
Greene53337
Scott51813
Decatur50439
Adams4837
Whitley4556
Clay4467
Ripley4418
Sullivan43714
Wells4288
Wabash4119
Starke4077
Orange40425
Huntington3905
Spencer3906
Washington3753
Franklin37225
Jennings36713
Fulton3523
Randolph3529
Jefferson3415
Pike33018
Carroll32513
Perry31014
Jay3056
Fountain2943
Tipton27523
Vermillion2411
Parke2323
Newton22511
Rush2154
Blackford2093
Owen2051
Martin1990
Crawford1581
Pulaski1521
Brown1393
Ohio1297
Benton1100
Union1100
Switzerland920
Warren781
Unassigned0234

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 190430

Reported Deaths: 5161
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin31466640
Cuyahoga19706682
Hamilton16687343
Montgomery10377189
Lucas8285373
Butler8276129
Summit6689265
Warren420064
Stark3796181
Mahoning3709286
Marion338850
Pickaway301146
Delaware287227
Lorain272889
Fairfield264457
Licking257966
Wood249681
Clark249456
Clermont245938
Greene229242
Trumbull2270134
Allen213073
Columbiana212887
Miami199958
Lake193659
Medina185642
Portage162068
Mercer152128
Wayne140269
Ross139436
Richland132324
Tuscarawas129024
Athens12052
Erie115553
Darke114451
Madison105415
Hancock104725
Auglaize100616
Putnam97427
Lawrence93025
Shelby90914
Muskingum8884
Geauga85950
Scioto8599
Belmont78827
Union7583
Ashtabula72648
Sandusky71122
Huron70912
Preble62418
Holmes61710
Seneca60114
Ottawa58430
Fulton53711
Henry47317
Jefferson4694
Clinton46413
Defiance46013
Jackson4598
Crawford4528
Fayette4498
Highland4304
Logan4233
Ashland3986
Champaign3983
Knox38416
Brown3793
Perry36611
Washington35124
Morrow3442
Hardin33613
Williams3354
Coshocton32112
Guernsey3218
Pike3000
Wyandot29513
Gallia29113
Van Wert2633
Meigs21012
Adams2096
Paulding2012
Carroll2007
Hocking1979
Monroe16118
Noble1290
Vinton963
Harrison803
Morgan780
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 64°
Angola
Scattered Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 65°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Van Wert
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Friday Afternoon Showers & Thunderstorms
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events