Study Shows How Sexual Assault Leads To Permanent Brain Damage In Women Later In Life

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A new study has revealed that women who have been sexually assaulted have a higher risk of developing brain damage. 

Research carried out at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health found that cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke are all after effects of brain damage linked to sexual assault. 

The study shows that sexual assault causes trauma that can later lead to brain damage. 

The study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh monitored brain scans of 145 midlife women with no prior history of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or dementia. 

Out of the participants, 68% had experienced trauma, and 23% had experienced trauma due to sexual assault. 

"Using brain imaging, we found that women with a history of sexual assault have greater white matter hyperintensities in the brain, which is an indicator of small vessel disease that has been linked to stroke, dementia, cognitive decline, and mortality," said Thurston.

"Based upon population data, most women have their sexual assaults when they are in early adolescence and early adulthood," said study author Rebecca Thurston, a professor and director of the Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. "So these are likely early experiences that we're seeing the marks of later in life." 

Prior studies have also linked sexual trauma to higher levels of triglycerides and blood pressure in midlife, and a three-fold greater risk of developing carotid plaque, all key risk factors for heart disease.

Sexual violence has become one of the biggest issues that women face. 

Nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. 1 in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old. 1 in 8 female rape victims reported that it occurred before age 10.

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In addition to the study done for brain damage, there was also a 2018 study done by Thurston who found that women who reported prior sexual assault were three times more likely to experience depression and twice as likely to have elevated anxiety and insomnia than women without a history of sexual trauma.

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Of course sexual assault doesn’t only affect women, but men as well.

Research suggests that 10% to 20% of all men will experience some form of sexual abuse or assault at some point in their lives.

Male sexual survivious are often shrouded in stigma, with excuses that “men don’t get sexually assaulted” or questioning the masculinity of men who do decide to come forward and report their abusers.

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There are also less services available to male assault survivors, and usually law enforcement along with the justice system are never fully equipped to deal with sexual assault crimes comitted against men.

Male survivors are almost forgotten and erased from categories of assault victims, when in reality they need to be included in the narrative of sexual assault.

Although sexual violence crimes do happen to women more frequently then they happen to men, there are still a number of men in the world who are victims to abuse and deserve to have their voices heard as well.

Anyone should feel safe enough to come forward and share their stories with comfortability. Sexual assault leaves a massive footprints of trauma in people’s lives, as well as their brains, and no one should have to suffer through that alone.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.