Long term effects of Sexual Harassment and Assault on Both Mental and Physical Health
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:
There is data on the connection between sexual harassment and assault and women’s health
Usually self-reported, survey studies may not be appropriately validated
Potential for confounding (e.g. due to healthcare access)
Using a well-characterized sample, Thurston et al. ( JAMA, 2018) sought to determine whether a history of sexual harassment and sexual assault was associated with blood pressure, mood, anxiety, and sleep among midlife women
Recruited from the community
Originally selected for a research study association between hot flashes and subclinical atherosclerosis
Questionnaire psychosocial assessments (workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, sleep)
304 nonsmoking women aged 40 to 60 years were included
All were free of clinical cardiovascular disease
Mean (SD) age: 54.05 (3.99) years
19% reported a history of workplace sexual harassment
22% reported a history of sexual assault
Sexual harassment was related to significantly greater odds of
Stage 1 or 2 hypertension among women not taking anti-hypertensives
Odds ratio [OR] 2.36; 95% CI, 1.10-5.06 (P = .03)
Clinically poor sleep
OR 1.89; 95% CI, 1.05-3.42 (P = .03)
Sexual assault was associated with significantly greater odds of
Clinically elevated depressive symptoms
OR 2.86; 95% CI, 1.42-5.77 (multivariable P = .003)
Clinically relevant anxiety
OR 2.26; 95% CI, 1.26-4.06 (P = .006)
Clinically poor sleep
OR 2.15; 95% CI, 1.23-3.77 (multivariable P = .007)
While the approximately 20% rate of sexual harassment or assault is high, it is lower than many national samples
Using full, validated scales with adjustment for confounders, sexual harassment was associated with higher blood pressure and poorer sleep. Sexual assault was associated with poorer mental health and sleep
The authors state
Given the high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, addressing these prevalent and potent social exposures may be critical to promoting health and preventing disease in women.
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