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Association of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault With Midlife Women’s Mental and Physical Health

18 October 2018
Karolanne O'Keefe

Publication Date
3 October 2018

Original Abstract
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are prevalent experiences among women. However, their association with health indices is less well understood.

To investigate the association of history of sexual harassment and sexual assault with blood pressure, mood, anxiety, and sleep among midlife women.

Nonsmoking women without cardiovascular disease were recruited from the community to undergo physical measurements (blood pressure, height, weight), medical history, and questionnaire psychosocial assessments (workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, sleep).

Among the 304 nonsmoking women aged 40 to 60 years who participated in the study, all were free of clinical cardiovascular disease, and the mean (SD) age was 54.05 (3.99) years. A total of 19% reported a history of workplace sexual harassment (n = 58), and 22% reported a history of sexual assault (n = 67). Sexual harassment was related to significantly greater odds of stage 1 or 2 hypertension among women not taking antihypertensives (odds ratio [OR], 2.36; 95% CI, 1.10-5.06; P = .03) as well as clinically poor sleep (OR, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.05-3.42; P = .03), after adjusting for covariates. Sexual assault was associated with significantly greater odds of clinically elevated depressive symptoms (OR, 2.86; 95% CI, 1.42-5.77; multivariable P = .003), clinically relevant anxiety (OR, 2.26; 95% CI, 1.26-4.06; P = .006), and clinically poor sleep (OR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.23-3.77; multivariable P = .007), after adjusting for covariates.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are prevalent experiences among midlife women. Sexual harassment was associated with higher blood pressure and poorer sleep. Sexual assault was associated with poorer mental health and sleep. Efforts to improve women’s health should target sexual harassment and assault prevention.

C. Thurston, R., Chang, Y., A. Matthews, K., et al. (2018). Association of sexual harassment and sexual assault with midlife women’s mental and physical health. JAMA Internal Medicine. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed. 2018.4886.

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women, old, sexual harassment, sexual assault, physical health, mental health, anxiety, sleep, mood


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