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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.

Physical

  • 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

Psychological

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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Social

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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