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Sexual Violence: Consequences

Sexual violence can have harmful and lasting consequences for victims, families, and communities. The following list describes some of those consequences.


  • More than 32,000 pregnancies result from rape every year with the highest rates of rape-induced pregnancy reported by women in abusive relationships1,2
  • Some long-term consequences of sexual violence include:3-6, 15  
    • Chronic pain
    • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Gynecological complications
    • Migraines and other frequent headaches
    • Sexually transmitted infections
    • Cervical cancer
    • Genital injuries


Victims of sexual violence face both immediate and chronic psychological consequences.7-9

Immediate psychological consequences include the following:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Shame or guilt
  • Nervousness
  • Distrust of others
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Emotional detachment
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Flashbacks
    • Mental replay of assault

Chronic psychological consequences include the following: 10- 14, 16

  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Attempted or completed suicide
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Diminished interest/avoidance of sex
  • Low self-esteem/self-blame

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Sexual violence also has social impacts on its victims, such as the following: 3- 6,17

  • Strained relationships with family, friends, and intimate partners
  • Less emotional support from friends and family
  • Less frequent contact with friends and relatives
  • Lower likelihood of marriage
  • Isolation or ostracism from family or community

Health Risk Behaviors

Sexual violence victimization is associated with several health risk behaviors.3,12,18-27  Some researchers view the following health behaviors as both consequences of sexual violence and factors that increase a person's vulnerability to being victimized again in the future.24,28

  • Engaging in high-risk sexual behavior
    • Unprotected sex
    • Early sexual initiation
    • Choosing unhealthy sexual partners
    • Having multiple sex partners
    • Trading sex for food, money, or other items
  • Using harmful substances
    • Smoking cigarettes
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Drinking alcohol and driving
    • Taking drugs
  • Unhealthy diet-related behaviors
    • Fasting
    • Vomiting
    • Abusing diet pills
    • Overeating
  • Delinquency and criminal behavior
  • Failure to engage in healthy behaviors, such as motor vehicle seat belt use

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  2. McFarlane J, Malecha A, Watson K, et al. Intimate partner sexual assault against women: frequency, health consequences, and treatment outcomes. Obstet Gynecol. 2005;105:99-108.
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  9. Campbell R, Dworkin E, Cabral G. An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women's mental health. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2009.
  10. Chen LP, Murad  MH, Paras ML, Colbenson  KM, Sattler  AL, Goranson  EN, Zirakzadeh A. Sexual abuse and lifetime diagnosis of psychiatric disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010; 85(7): 618-629. doi: 10.4065/mcp.2009.0583
  11. Tomasula JL, Anderson LM, Littleton HL, Riley-Tillman TC. The association between sexual assault and suicidal activity in a national sample. Sch Psychol Q. 2012; 27(2): 109 –119.
  12. Zinzow HM, Resnick HS, McCauley JL, Amstadter AB, Ruggiero KJ, Kilpatrick DG. The role of rape tactics in risk for posttraumatic stress disorder and major depression: results from a national sample of college women. Depress Anxiety. 2010;  27(8): 708-715
  13. Basile KC, Smith SG. Sexual violence victimization of women: Prevalence, characteristics, and the role of public health and prevention. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2011, 1559827611409512.
  14. Weaver TL. Impact of rape on female sexuality: review of selected literature. Clin Obstet Gynecol.  2009; 52(4), 702-711.
  15. Sommers MS. Defining patterns of genital injury from sexual assault: A review. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2007;8:270-280.
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  18. Afifi TO, Henriksen CA, Asmundson GJ, Sareen J. Childhood maltreatment and substance use disorders among men and women in a nationally representative sample. Can J Psychiatry. 2012; 57(11): 677-686.
  19. Basile KC, Black MC, Simon TR, Arias I, Brener ND, Saltzman LE. The association between self-reported lifetime history of forced sexual intercourse and recent health-risk behaviors: findings from the 2003 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. J Adolesc Health. 2006; 39: 752.e1–752.e7.
  20. Champion HL, Foley KL, DuRant RH, Hensberry R, Altman D, Wolfson M. Adolescent sexual victimization, use of alcohol and other substances, and other health risk behaviors. J Adolescent Health. 2004; 35(4):321–328.
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  28. Lang AJ, Rodgers CS, Laffaye C, Satz LE, Dresselhaus TR, Stein MB. Sexual trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and health behavior. Behav Med. 2003;28(4):150–158.

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