Rape victims treated with psychotherapy are still more than twice as likely
to have sexual difficulties and pelvic pain than unvictimised women, according
to a new study.
But it's unclear from this study whether the pelvic and sexual difficulties
are a direct result of physical rape trauma or are a physical manifestation of
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder that will be experienced by up to half
of rape victims.
"The findings are consistent with a growing body of research," said Steven
Bruce, director of the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of
Missouri-St. Louis, who was not involved in the study.
Researchers already knew that victims of chronic sexual abuse in childhood were at risk for sexual problems, according to co-author Iva Biancic of the
National Psychotrauma Center for Children and Youth at University Medical Center
in Utrecht, the Netherlands."We found evidence that victims of single rape
during adolescence have an equal risk to develop such problems," she told
The researchers asked 18 women in their late teens and early twenties who had
been raped during adolescence and treated for PTSD about their sexual
functioning, and compared the answers to those of 114 college-aged women who had
never been victimised.
About 30% of the rape victims had pelvic floor hypertonicity, or "too-tight
vagina", compared to 12% of the non-victimised group, according to results
published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Both groups had the same level of
The study had a number of weaknesses, according to Mary Koss of the
University of Arizona in Tucson, who has served on the National Academy of
Sciences Panel on Violence Against Women. The rape victims had a lower average
education level than the comparison group, which indicates that the groups may
not have been similar in many other ways, Koss said.
She also noted that "pelvic floor problems" could be a direct physical
consequence of rape, especially since most of the women were underage and could
have been as young as 12 or 13 when the rape happened, but those details aren't
included in the results.
Many rape victims are asymptomatic and never seek psychotherapy, so she warns
that women in that category may be disturbed by these results."The bad news is
there are people out there who might not have thought of this and end up feeling
dejected," Koss said."Clearly, all PTSD interventions are not alike and there is
considerable variability in the level of success following any intervention,"
said Tara Galovski, who studies PTSD for victims of assault at the University of
Galovski agreed that the study would need to include more details about the
state of each woman's mental health at the time of the study and the physical
trauma suffered during the rape for the results to be useful for practitioners,