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What are the effects of sexual harassment on women’s health?

A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine examined the effects of sexual harassment on women’s mental and physical health.

Around 40-75% of women in the United States have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, which translates into one in every three women. Sexual harassment and sexual assault have been the topic of much discussion in recent years. Public awareness of harassment and assault are on the rise with recent movements in mainstream media highlighting the experiences of sexual assault and harassment at the workplace. The health outcomes of individuals battling these experiences are quite poor physically and mentally. A recent study examined the impact of sexual assault or harassment on the physical and mental health of women and was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study included 304 non-smoking women between 40 to 60 years old recruited from the community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. The investigators assessed them for indications of sexual assault or harassment based on the Brief Trauma Questionnaire. They also assessed blood pressure, BMI, and depressive symptoms, as well as demographic variables and current medical history.

It was seen that about one in every five women did report encountering or experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault. They found that women who were more financially strained and younger had a greater the chance of being sexually harassed.

The study found that a history of sexual harassment was associated with higher levels of blood pressure, poor sleep patterns, as well as elevated anxiety and depression. There were not extensive differences in characteristics of those who reported sexual harassment and those reporting sexual assault, excepting that women who were harassed were more educated but financially strained. Women who are of a younger age and financially constrained were unable to leave abusive work environments due to their dependencies.

The link between higher levels of education in women and sexual harassment in this study is unclear, it could be due to the fact that many are employed in male-dominated settings, and understand comprehend sexual harassment more clearly.

When considering this study about the effects of sexual harassment, it did not contain racially diverse samples and so the results cannot be generalized. More comprehensive research is vital. Nevertheless, the results do indicate the need for healthcare practitioners to consider more extensive variables that have implications for patient health.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Thurston, R. C., Chang, Y., Matthews, K. A., von Känel, R., & Koenen, K. (2018). Association of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault With Midlife Women’s Mental and Physical Health. JAMA Internal Medicine.



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