Ever since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came out publicly with her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh, there’s been a lot of questions around why women remain silent for so many years and how much of an impact sexual assault can have on a survivor years later. President Trump even had the nerve to cruelly and ignorantly mock Ford’s testimony at a campaign rally in Mississippi. But new findings published this week in the journal of JAMA Internal Medicine, proves that women can experience health problems after sexual assault that persists for literally years.
The new study finds that health problems triggered by sexual assault can include everything from high blood pressure, poor-quality anxiety, and even depression. This research was pulled together after researchers examined over 300 women who are sexual assault survivors.
In Ford’s testimony, she shared how the sexual assault actually lead to her experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), claustrophobia and anxiety.
“There is a clear correlation between the experience of sexual harassment or sexual assault for a woman and adverse effects on her life, be they physical or mental health consequences,” Dr. Maurren Sayres Van Niel, a women’s psychiatrist practicing in Cambridge Massachusetts and president of the American Psychiatric Association Women’s Caucus told Live Science. “There is no question that the elimination of sexual violence will improve the health and mental health of women.”
In fact, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), it’s very common for survivors of sexual assault and rape to experience PTSD. Studies like this have actually been performed before. In 2001 a study found that 94% of survivors experience PTSD within 2 weeks following an assault. That’s a huge percentage.
And the mental health affects don’t just go away over the years. For many survivors, they linger on for years. Ford says the PTSD and anxiety she’s experienced since being assaulted at age 15 only persisted until her adulthood—until this day. Even sharing her story in court—and with the world—caused her to relive the traumatic experience.
“I have had to relive my trauma in front of the entire world, and have seen my life picked apart by people on television, in the media, and in this body who have never met me or spoken with me,” she said. “I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me. I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn. My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed. It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Since Ford’s testimony, numerous celebrities have opened up about being sexually assaulted in their teens and how the trauma still impacts them today. Last week Padma Lakshmi penned a personal essay in the NY Times on how she was date raped at 16. Longtime television news anchor, Connie Chung wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post as a letter to Dr. Ford on how she too was sexually assaulted as a teenager and how it has seared into her memory forever. Busy Phillips opened up recently about how her own sexual assault trauma as a teen after being moved by Ford’s bravery. She shared her experience publicly both on social media but also in an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where Ellen also admitted to having been assaulted when she was 15. Every single one of these women admitted to their assaults still deeply affecting them even so many years later.
While the impacts of sexual assault vary per person, these studies and the numerous testimonies we’ve heard from survivors are proof that it does have long-term mental health and even physical effects that we can no longer ignore. These correlations with sexual assault, rape and PTSD or anxiety are not coincidental as some white male Republicans might want us to believe. Instead, they are detrimental to our health.
If you have experienced sexual assault, rape or violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).