PTSD Rates of Assaulted Women

PTSD after sexual assault more likely after second victimization

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Rape is a difficult subject to discuss for most people. But a person who has been sexually assaulted can be at high risk for a second assault — and for post traumatic stress disorder.

Those are the findings of a recent study that estimate sexual victimization and PTSD throughout the U.S.

"Report rape. Seek help."

The study, led by Kate Walsh, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Medical University of South Carolina, aimed to find out how prevalent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was among women who had been sexually assaulted at least twice.

The study used three different data sets: college students in the 2006 National Women's Study, the 2005 National Survey of Adolescents and household women in the 2006 National Women's Study.

A total of 1,763 teen girls, 2,000 college women and 3,001 women living in households were included in the study.

The women were asked whether they had experienced unwanted sexual activity by force, by threats or while drugged or drunk.

The respondents were also assessed for symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

The researchers found that 53 percent of the teenage girls who had been sexually assaulted were later victims again of sexual assault.

Exactly half of the college women and 59 percent of the household women who were sexually assaulted were also sexually re-victimized.

Rates of PTSD were highest among the re-victimized college women, 40 percent of whom had PTSD.

Among the teens, 20 percent of those who were sexually assaulted at least twice had PTSD, and 27 percent of the re-victimized household women had PTSD.

The researchers then calculated the risk of PTSD among women victimized once or more than once. The rate doubled with multiple assaults.

Those sexually victimized once were 2.4 to 3.5 times more likely to have PTSD than women not sexually assaulted.

But those sexually assaulted at least twice were 4.3 to 8.2 times more likely to have PTSD.

The researchers used these numbers to estimate how many teenage girls, college women and household women were likely to have been victims of sexual assault and how many likely have PTSD as a result.

They estimate that 769,000 teenage girls in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted at least twice, and 154,000 of them have PTSD.

Among the 625,000 U.S. college women they estimate have been twice victims of unwanted sexual activity, 250,000 — a quarter million — likely have PTSD.

Among women in general in households across the U.S., they estimate 13.4 million have been victims at least twice of sexual assault, and 3.6 million have PTSD.

The authors write that these findings emphasize the need for girls and women of all ages to be screened for PTSD and other mental health conditions if they have been sexually assaulted more than once.

The study was published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Justice. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 26, 2012
Last Updated:
October 3, 2012