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Costs of Sexual Violence

Physical Costs

Victims are likely to experience a number of physical reactions to sexual assault. According to the United Nations' Handbook on Justice for Victims, reactions to being victimized include—

an increase in the adrenalin in the body, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, shaking, tears, numbness, a feeling of being frozen or experiencing events in slow motion, dryness of the mouth, enhancement of particular senses, such as smell, and a "fight or flight" response. Some of these physical reactions may not occur until after the danger has passed. They may recur at a later stage when the memory of the crime returns. After the crime, victims may suffer a range of physical effects, including insomnia, appetite disturbance, lethargy, headaches, muscle tension, nausea and decreased libido. Such reactions may persist for some time after the crime has occurred. Physical injuries resulting from victimization may not always be immediately apparent.16

Other reactions could include physical pain and hypervigilance. In addition, sexual violence is linked to numerous adverse chronic health conditions such as arthritis, chronic neck or back pain, frequent migraines, headaches, visual problems, sexually transmitted infections, chronic pelvic pain, increased gynecological symptoms, peptic ulcers, and functional or irritable bowel disease.

Statistically, the physical aftermath (costs) of sexual violence include17

  • Increased health care services: In the year following a rape, the average level of health care services sought by victims increases 18 percent over pre-sexual assault levels; during the second year after the sexual assault, use of health services increases 56 percent; and during the third year, this use increases to 31 percent above ┬ápre-sexual assault levels.
  • Physical trauma: More than half of rape victims seen in emergency departments display vaginal and perineal trauma and 15 percent have significant vaginal tearing.
  • Pregnancy: Approximately 5 percent of reported rapes result in pregnancy.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Higher rates of STIs are reported among women raped in the preceding year.