New Study Uncovers Striking Long-Term Health Effects of Sexual Assault

The ramifications on women’s mental and physical health may be broader than we knew.

 Tara Moore / Getty Images

A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine looked into the lifelong effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment on women, and the results are deeply disquieting:

“Those with a history of workplace sexual harassment had significantly higher odds of hypertension and clinically poor sleep than women without this history,” the authors write. And women with a history of sexual assault had much higher odds of “clinically significant depressive symptoms, anxiety, and poor sleep than women without this history.”

The study looked at hundreds of women, with an average age of 54, who had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their past.

The correlation between assault, harassment, and an inundation of health issues in middle age — both mental and physical — is significant on its own. But the authors cite another statistic that underscores just how common sexual harassment and assault is in our culture, which makes these findings even more significant: an estimated 40 percent to 75 percent of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment, and over 1 in 3 women (36 percent) have experienced sexual assault.

“Given the high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, addressing these prevalent and potent social exposures may be critical to promoting health and preventing disease in women,” the authors write.

In our current political moment, this research is more critical than ever, and demands attention and massive change. A huge number of women’s long term health is in jeopardy. Yes, this is a cultural issue, but it’s a public health crisis, too.

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