Study says 75% of sexual assault survivors have PTSD, one month later

sexual assault ptsd, post-traumatic
© Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

The University of Washington team explain that while most sexual assault survivors have PTSD one month after the attack – but it is common to feel better within three months

In the UK, it was found by UN Women that 97% of women experience street-level sexual harassment. The figure came out after the murder of Sarah Everard, a woman who was killed by a police officer while walking home. It sparked conversation and reflection about hostility toward women and girls, who sometimes do not recognise harassment because it is so commonplace. But these events can lead to trauma, even years down the line.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is characterised by symptoms such as reliving a traumatic event in nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or flashbacks; avoiding being reminded of the event; increases in negative emotions and decreases in positive emotions; self-blame; and feeling on edge.

This kind of trauma can even be passed down genetically. Untreated, it can open the door to psychiatric disorders, as seen in survivors of the Holocaust. 

The study, a metanalysis of 2,106 sexual assault survivors, found that there was substantial hope for recovery.

Within the space of a week, 81% of survivors documented symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Within another month, that number dropped to 75%. Following another three months, the figure of those with PTSD symptoms was 54%, dropping further to 41% after one year.

Findings should ‘convey some hope’

“One of the main takeaways is that the majority of recovery from post-traumatic stress happens in first three months,” said lead author Emily Dworkin, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We hope this will give survivors and clinicians a sense of what to expect and convey some hope.”

A number of proven interventions, such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy, help people recover from sexual assault and other traumas. Assistant Professor Dworkin further explains that it is important for people to seek help if PTSD symptoms interfere with their functioning – even if a significant amount of time has passed since the traumatic event.

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