Study Finds Sexual Assault And Harassment Can Affect Women’s Health Later In Life

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A new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine has found that women who experience sexual assault are likely to be affected by it for the rest of their lives, reports the Los Angeles Times. The study, which was presented October 3 at the annual meeting for the North American Menopause Society, made many startling discoveries. More specifically, the study found that women between the ages of 40 and 60 who were sexually assaulted at any point in their lives were almost three times more likely to suffer from depression and over two times more likely to suffer from anxiety in comparison to women who did not experience sexual assault.

Additionally, this study discovered that women who have had encounters with sexual harassment are over twice as likely to have untreated high blood pressure, and women who have experienced sexual assault and/or harassment were around twice as likely to have problems with sleeping than the women in the study who were not assaulted or harassed.

The study was made up of 304 women in Pittsburgh. Fifty-eight of them (19 percent) reported having been sexually harassed at work, with 67 of the women (22 percent) reporting having been sexually assaulted. Ten percent of the group had experienced both. These percentages are notably lower than the national average: 36 percent of women have experienced “unwanted sexual contact” nationwide, and somewhere between 40 percent and 75 percent of women have experienced gender-targeted physical or verbal harassment in the workplace, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study points out that the health issues experienced in women in the 40 to 60 age range can unfortunately escalate. For example, hypertension when you’re younger raises the chances that you could develop heart disease, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have been shown to contribute to poorer heart and brain health overall. Poor sleep quality can also result in an array of health issues, from obesity to dementia.

For those in the group who did not experience sexual assault, around 12 percent of women had experienced symptoms of depression, while 23 percent had some form of anxiety and 40 percent reported having sleep trouble. Look at the group who did experience sexual assault, however, and the numbers leap: 25 percent having depression, 40 percent having anxiety, and 57 percent experiencing poor sleep.

Rebecca C. Thurston, a psychologist and epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh who led this study, stated that this problem cannot be “ignored” anymore.

“This is a massive number of women, so it’s an enormous public health issue. If we want to prevent mental health problems, sleep problems and hypertension, I think we really need to think about these toxic exposures women are experiencing at the workplace and elsewhere.”