The trauma of sexual assault or harassment is not only hard to forget; it may also leave lasting effects on a woman’s health. This finding of a study published Wednesday adds support to a growing body of evidence suggesting the link.
In the study of roughly 300 middle-aged women, an experience of sexual assault was associated with anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. A history of workplace sexual harassment was also associated with poor sleep, and with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
“These are experiences that [a woman] could have had long ago … and it can have this long arm of influence throughout a woman’s life,” says Rebecca Thurston, lead author of the study, and a research psychologist and director of the Women’s Behavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.
The study data come from a survey of healthy women between ages 40 and 60 who’d been recruited for a study on menopause and cardiovascular disease — not sexual harassment or assault. They all had their blood pressure checked at study visits, as well as height and weight.