August 4, 2011

Lifetime Impact of Rape and Sexual Violence

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Violence against women is a major public health concern, contributing to high levels of illness and death worldwide. A new study has found that women who experience gender-based violence (GBV), such as rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking, have a higher lifetime occurrence of mental health disorders, dysfunction, and disability.

"In the United States, 17 percent of women report rape or attempted rape and more than one-fifth of women report intimate partner violence (IPV), stalking, or both. There is mounting evidence that each of these forms of gender-based violence is associated with mental disorder among women, although methodological shortcomings of existing studies constrain the inferences that can be drawn," the study's authors write.

Lead study author, Susan Rees, Ph.D., of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and her colleagues analyzed the data of 4,541 women, ages 16-85 years, from the Australian National Mental Health and Well-being Survey of 2007. They studied the association of a composite index of gender-based violence, including rape, sexual abuse, IPV, and stalking, with a range of lifetime mental disorders.

The team found that the lifetime prevalence for any mental disorder was 37.8 percent. A total of 27.4 percent reported experiencing at least one of the types of GBV assessed in this study. The lifetime prevalence rates were 14.7 percent for sexual assault, 10 percent for stalking, 8.1 percent for rape, and 7.8 percent for IPV. Women who had been exposed to one form of GBV reported a high rate of lifetime mood disorder at 30.7 percent, lifetime anxiety disorder at 38.5 percent, lifetime substance use disorder at 23 percent, lifetime posttraumatic stress disorder at 15.2 percent, and any lifetime mental disorder at 57.3 percent.

The researchers also found that GBV was associated with more severe current mental disorders, higher rates of three or more lifetime disorders, physical disability, mental disability, impaired quality of life, an increase in disability days, and overall disability.

"Our data underlines the observation that mental health disorders in women who have experienced GBV tends to be more severe and associated with co-morbidity characteristics that require expert and comprehensive approaches to treatment. Therefore, there is a need to ensure that expert mental health care is a central component of GBV programs. Similarly, psychiatric services need to be better equipped to assist women with mental health disorders who have experienced GBV," the authors write.

SOURCE: JAMA, August 4, 2011.