Sexual Harassment and Assault Linked to Worse Physical/Mental Health Among Midlife Women


Source: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Summary: A new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests that experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault could have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of midlife women.


Sexual harassment and sexual assault are highly prevalent experiences among women. An estimated 40 – 75% of women in the United States have experienced workplace sexual harassment and more than 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual assault. While both have been linked to poorer health outcomes, previous studies have predominantly used self-reported parameters, which could be biased by mood, memory and health literacy, or these studies have not taken into account factors such as socioeconomic status or medication use. A new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests that experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault could have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of midlife women. The study findings were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Mid-aged women

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In the current study, Thurston and her colleagues analyzed the association between a history of sexual assault or workplace verbal or physical sexual harassment and physical and mental health parameters such as blood pressure, sleep, mood and anxiety. The analysis was conducted among a group of 304 midlife women between the ages of 40 and 60 who were originally recruited as part of a larger study on the association between menopause and cardiovascular health. Importantly, the study found that assaulted women were almost three times more likely to have symptoms consistent with major depression and were more than two times more likely to have elevated anxiety. Sexual harassment was associated with higher prevalence of hypertension. Both sexual harassment and sexual assault were associated with a two-fold higher likelihood of poor sleep consistent with clinical insomnia.

Prof. Thurston said, We know that sexual harassment and assault are prevalent in our society and can cause significant harm,” said Thurston. “If you are a healthcare provider, recognize that these experiences can have implications for your patient’s health. If you are a victim of assault or harassment, don’t suffer through it. Get help. If you can, change the situation or remove yourself from it.”


More Information: Rebecca C. Thurston et al, “Association of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault With Midlife Women’s Mental and Physical Health”, JAMA Internal Medicine (2018). DOI: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamai … ainternmed.2018.4859 


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