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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 them.

Physical

  • More than 32,000 pregnancies result from rape every year (Holmes et al., 1996)
  • Some long-term consequences include (Jewkes, Sen, Garcia-Moreno, 2002):
    • Chronic pelvic pain
    • Premenstrual syndrome
    • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Gynecological and pregnancy complications
    • Migraines and other frequent headaches
    • Back pain
    • Facial pain
    • Disability that prevents work

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Psychological

Victims of sexual violence face both immediate and chronic psychological consequences (Felitti et al., 1998; Yuan, Koss, Stone 2006).

Immediate psychological consequences include:

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

Chronic psychological consequences include:

  • Depression
  • Attempted or completed suicide
  • Alienation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms

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Social

Sexual violence also has social impacts on its victims, such as (Clements at al., 2004; Golding, Wilsnack, Cooper, 2002):

  • Strained relationships with the victim's family, friends, and intimate partners
  • Less emotional support from friends and family
  • Less frequent contact with friends and relatives
  • Lower likelihood of marriage

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Health Behaviors

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 (Brener et al., 1999; Lang et al., 2003).

  • Engaging in high-risk sexual behavior including:
    • 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

(Basile et al., 2006; Champion et al., 2004; Jewkes, Sen, Garcia-Moreno, 2002; Raj, Silverman, Amaro, 2000)

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References

Basile KC. Sexual violence in the lives of girls and women. In: Kendall-Tackett K, editor. Handbook of women, stress, and trauma. New York: Brunner-Routledge; 2005. p.101–122

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. Journal of Adolescent Health 2006;39:752.e1–752.e7.

Brener ND, McMahon PM, Warren CW, Douglas KA. Forced sexual intercourse and associated health-risk behaviors among female college students in the United States. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1999;67:252–259.

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. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004;35(4):321–328.

Clements PT, Speck PM, Crane PA, Faulkner MJ. Issues and dynamics of sexually assaulted adolescents and their families. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 2004;13(4):267–274.

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1998;14:245–258.

Golding JM, Wilsnack SC, Cooper ML. Sexual assault history and social support: six general population studies. Journal of Traumatic Stress 2002;15(3):187-97.

Holmes MM, Resnick HS, Kilpatrick DG, Best CL. Rape-related pregnancy: estimates and descriptive characteristics from a national sample of women. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.1996;175:320–324.

Jewkes R, Sen P, Garcia-Moreno C. Sexual violence. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, et al., editors. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2002, pp. 213–239.

Lang AJ, Rodgers CS, Laffaye C, Satz LE, Dresselhaus TR, Stein MB. Sexual trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and health behavior. Behavioral Medicine 2003;28(4):150–158.

Raj A, Silverman JG, Amaro H. The relationship between sexual abuse and sexual risk among high school students: findings from the 1997 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2004(2):125–134.

Yuan NP, Koss MP, Stone M. The psychological consequences of sexual trauma. National On-line Resource Center on Violence Against Women. 2006. Available from: http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/AR_PsychConsequences.pdf [PDF 256 KB]

 

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