While depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are commonly associated with sexual assault, female victims of rape suffer a much wider spectrum of debilitating effects that often go unnoticed or undiagnosed, according to a new study.
Researchers found significant negative consequences from rape and attempted sexual assault in 13 domains of psychological and social functioning — including self-esteem, social reputation, sexual desire and self-perceived mate value.
As part of the study, the researchers surveyed 140 women who had been raped or experienced attempted sexual assault.
On a scale of negative three to positive three, with zero representing no change, they evaluated the severity of damage they experienced after their rapes or assaults.
The women also provided subjective descriptions of the impact of their experiences in relation to each of the psychological and social domains that were studied.
Though all the victims reported negative effects in every domain, rape victims reported significantly more negative outcomes than victims of attempted rape in 11 domains.
Across the board, the most negatively affected domains were self-esteem, sexual reputation, (i.e., being labeled as promiscuous), frequency of sex, desire to have sex, and self-perceived mate value or desirability, according to the researchers.
Even with all the negative consequences, researchers Carin Perilloux, Ph.D., now a visiting assistant professor at Union College in New York, and David Buss, Ph.D., professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, said hope could be found in some of the women’s feelings of optimism.
“Women often show exceptional resilience,” Perilloux said.
“With support and assistance, many rape victims may be able to regain normalcy in some of the domains of their lives affected by the victimization.”
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.