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Sexual Assault And Harassment Can Have Long-Term Adverse Effects On Women's Health

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A worried young woman. A new study found a link between a woman's experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault to a higher risk of hypertension, depression, and anxiety. The report came in the wake of the #MeToo movement that rocked Hollywood in the past year.   ( Ryan McGuire | Pixabay )

Victims of sexual assault deal with mental and physical health issues long after the traumatic encounter happened, a new study has found.

Researchers recruited 304 women aged 40 to 60 years old, all non-smokers, to answer some questionnaires about their health. They found that women who have a history of sexual harassment and sexual assault report hypertension, depression, anxiety, and poor sleep.

The results of the study were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The study results will also be presented at the North American Menopause Society Annual Meeting in San Diego on Oct. 3 to 6.

Lasting Health Effects Of Sexual Assault

Among the women surveyed during the study, 19 percent have experienced sexual harassment at the workplace. Meanwhile, 22 percent of women have a history of sexual assault.

The research found that women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace have a higher odds of getting Stage 1 or Stage 2 hypertension as well as clinically poor sleep. Victims of sexual assault have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and clinically poor sleep.

While the researchers cannot prove that the participants' previous experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault has directly caused these women's diagnosis of physical and mental health issues, they said that the link is worth looking into.

"It is widely understood that sexual harassment and assault can impact women's lives and how they function, but this study also evaluates the implications of these experiences for women's health," stated Rebecca Thurston, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study, in a press release.

A separate study released in July and involving women from the United Kingdom revealed that four out of five teenage girls who were previously sexually assaulted also suffer from mental health issues anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prevalent Problem

The findings were released nearly a year after the #MeToo movement had kickstarted in Hollywood with the revelation of renowned movie producer Harvey Weinstein's numerous sexual misconducts spanning decades. The movement also encouraged victims from other fields to stand up and expose their attackers.

The past year has been proof of how prevalent the problems of sexual harassment and sexual assault of women really are. In a 2014 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 19 percent of all American women have been raped while almost 44 percent have experienced another form of sexual violence.

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