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Mental Health Center

Assaults Take Greater Psychological Toll on Women

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The people were asked whether they had experienced any severe traumatic events during their lifetimes. These included sexual traumas, such as rape or sexual molestation; non-sexual assault, such as robbery, mugging, or being held up, threatened with a weapon, kidnapped, held captive, or beaten up; or trauma not involving assault, such as being in a serious motor vehicle accident, witnessing a violent death or severe injury, or being involved in a fire or natural disaster. They were also asked about whether they had any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the previous month.

 

Results of the study, published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, showed that 74% of the women and 82% of the men questioned had been exposed to at least one traumatic event. However, although post-traumatic stress disorder was relatively rare, women were four times more likely to report post-traumatic stress disorder than the men, according to the author of the study, Murray B. Stein, MD, of the University of California, San Diego.

 

To eliminate the possibility that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men and that sexual assault may have more serious effects than other kinds of assault, the researchers excluded data from those people who were sexually assaulted. Women were found to be at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder following an assault that was not sexual, but were not at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder if the trauma did not involve assault of any nature.

 

Naomi Breslau, PhD, who has also investigated gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder, came to a similar conclusion. "This finding is very important, although it needs [to be repeated]. ... It looks like women are more vulnerable than men to develop PTSD following certain types of events that involve intentional or 'assaultive' violence ... but they may not have a greater vulnerability to PTSD if they are exposed to a disaster or accident." Breslau is affiliated with the department of psychiatry of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

 

Thus, says Breslau, one cannot say that women are simply psychologically weaker than men in handling trauma. Rather, post-traumatic stress disorder might be more likely to develop when a victim is personally threatened by the inequality in strength between the victim and an attacker who is physically stronger.

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