COPING WITH THE PHYSICAL
IMPACT OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
The psychological impact of sexual assault can be considerable as indicated throughout this book. Justifiably, many texts deal only with the long-term impact of the sexual assault (i.e., post-traumatic stress syndrome). However, a sexual assault can also have severe physical consequences including death or injury; it can also increase the risk of a variety of health complaints. Prevalence surveys in community and hospital settings have found 43–46% of sexually assaulted women to have required some contact with medical services (Campbell et al., 1999; Felhaus, Houry, and Kaminsky, 2000).
Physical violence is an attribute of many sexual assaults. Individuals can be left with cuts, bruises, scars, and physical trauma that results in urinary or faecal incontinence. Such injuries can leave a lasting memory of the assault.
Women who have been vaginally penetrated during a sexual assault may become pregnant. Both men and women who have been sexually assaulted have to consider the possibility of having contracted a sexually transmitted infection including HIV.
Any of these outcomes can increase the negative impact of the initial sexual assault and increase the risk of the assaulted person experiencing psychological problems. Many sexual health clinics and gynaecological services recognize the need for psychological support for people who have unwittingly become pregnant or acquired a sexually transmitted infection or HIV through a consenting sexual activity. When these