Effects of Sexual Trauma Often Undiagnosed in Women

Effects of Sexual Trauma Often Undiagnosed in Women

girl01Most people understand that there are often lasting psychological effects from the experience of rape or other sexual trauma. Usually the repercussions we are all aware of include depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, new research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior shows the psychological consequences of sexual assault can go far past these commonly recognized issues. Unfortunately, the lesser-known ramifications of rape often go undiagnosed in the victims, causing further suffering.

Consequences of Sexual Assault Affect Many Aspects of Mental Health and Functioning

Psychologists from Union College in New York and the University of Texas at Austin analyzed the results of a survey of 140 victims of sexual assault. They found that women with a history of rape or attempted sexual assault experienced considerable negative effects across more than 13 areas of social and psychological functioning.

Co-author Carin Perilloux, Ph.D., said: “These findings document that victims of sexual assault, and even victims of attempted sexual assault, suffer psychological and social costs more far ranging than previously suspected.”

The subjects ranked their personal feelings across all 13 domains from negative three to positive three where a zero would indicate no difference from before the assault. Participants were also asked to provide written descriptions of how these traumatic experiences had impacted their daily lives in relation to all 13 areas of functioning.

Rape Victims Suffer in Different Ways Than Victims of Attempted Sexual Assault

All respondents described negative consequences in all areas asked about in the survey. However, the individuals who were victims of rape compared to those involved in an attempted sexual assault described experiencing substantially greater negative results in 11 of the 13 domains that were analyzed, including:

  • Desire for sexual intimacy
  • How often they have sex
  • Self-image
  • Personal reputation (e.g., battling the label of  “promiscuous”)
  • Self-perceived desirability

Further research needs to be done to understand how long lasting these negative effects are and what helps to alleviate these issues for victims of sexual assault. The women in the study did demonstrate hopefulness in the ability to make a strong recovery; many of them spoke optimistically, hoping that the scars from the trauma would eventually heal and they would be able to lead a normal life in all areas once again.

For now, this new information will help to inform the development of more supportive therapies. The study’s conclusions may also allow loved ones to understand the extent to which sexual assault victims need to rehabilitate their bodies, minds and spirits.

If you know someone grappling with the psychological impacts of a sexual assault, mental health treatment is available. Contact us today at the phone number listed here and speak to a trained counselor.