The Risk of Developing PTSD After a Rape or Sexual Assault

Pre-existing Psychological Problems May Increase the Odds

PTSD. Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images

It is not uncommon for a person to develop PTSD after a rape or sexual assault. The term "sexual assault" refers to a range of behaviors that involve unwanted sexual contact, such as sexual molestation or rape. Unfortunately, such assaults happen all too often in our society, putting victims at risk for a range of serious mental health problems, such as depression and PTSD.

So, what increases the likelihood that a sexual assault will happen? Two factors that have been connected to increased risk of sexual assault are age and sex. 

Risk Factors for Sexual Assault

Certain people may be more likely to experience a sexual assault. Young women are a particular group of people that have been found to be at greatest risk for a sexual assault.

First sexual assaults have been found to occur most often between the ages of 16 and 20. In regard to sexual assault in the form of rape, rape is most frequently experienced among women aged 18 to 21, followed by women aged 22 to 24. In regard to other characteristics, rates of sexual assault do not seem to regularly differ across race, ethnicity, or income level.

Risk for PTSD After a Sexual Assault

Researchers have also examined which factors increase the likelihood that PTSD and other psychological problems will develop following a sexual assault. Several of the factors that have been identified are:

  • Presence or absence of psychological problems before the sexual assault
  • The experience of frequent life stress
  • The experience of a prior sexual assault or other traumatic experience
  • A history of dissociation
  • Severity of the sexual assault

Getting Help

Sexual assault occurs more often than you might think, especially among young women. Sexual assault is also connected with a number of negative consequences. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the RAINN both provide a number of resources for those who may be survivors of sexual assault or know such survivors and also provide tips to lower your risk of being sexually assaulted.

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