Intimate Sexual Victimization among Women with Protective Orders: Types and Associations of Physical and Mental Health Problems

By Cole, Jennifer; Logan, T. K. et al. | Violence and Victims, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Intimate Sexual Victimization among Women with Protective Orders: Types and Associations of Physical and Mental Health Problems


Cole, Jennifer, Logan, T. K., Shannon, Lisa, Violence and Victims


Intimate sexual violence was examined among a sample of women who had recently obtained protective orders against male partners using three groups: no sexual victimization (n = 368), sexual insistence (n = 114), and threatened and/or forced sex (n = 117). Differences in childhood sexual abuse as well as types of partner psychological abuse, stalking, and severe physical violence experiences were found across the groups. Multivariate analysis showed that women with no sexual victimization had significantly fewer mental health problems than women who had experienced sexual insistence and women who had been threatened or forced to have sex. Findings from this study underscore the importance of health, mental health, and criminal justice professionals assessing for a range of sexually abusive acts when working with victims of partner violence.

Keywords: partner violence; sexual coercion; sexual abuse; sexual assault

Sexual victimization of women by intimate partners affects a large number of women in the US (Russell, 1982; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) found in a national sample, the National Violence Against Women Survey, that 7.7% of women in the US (approximately 7.75 million) had been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Research also suggests that intimate sexual violence (ISV) and intimate partner violence often co-occur. Estimates range from 27% to 45.9% for the percentage of women who have experienced intimate partner violence and sexual violence by the same partner (Campbell, 1989; Campbell & Soeken, 1999; Eby, Campbell, Sullivan, & Davidson, 1995; Shields & Hanneke, 1983). In a review of studies examining sexual violence among IPV victims, Mahoney and Williams (1998) reported that sexual victimization among married women in physically abusive relationships was five to seven times higher than the rates for women who had never been married but had not experienced physical abuse. Many studies of sexual violence use samples of women seeking treatment for intimate partner violence (IPV), such as shelter samples (Monson & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1998). Therefore, it is unclear if the higher incidence of sexual victimization among IPV victims is generalizable to women who experience IPV but do not necessarily use victim services or other mental health treatment.

Physical Health

The research on sexual victimization, in general, has found that sexual victimization is associated with serious negative physical health effects (Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994). For example, research on the physical health of women who have been sexually victimized by any type of perpetrator reveals positive associations between sexual victimization and a number of physical health problems, such as gynecological symptoms (Golding, Wilsnack, & Learman, 1998; Waigandt, Wallace, Phelps, & Miller, 1990); sexually transmitted diseases (STD) (Campbell, 2002; Jenny et al., 1990); chronic pelvic pain (Drossman et al., 1990); hypertension (Cloutier, Martin, & Poole, 2002); obesity (Cloutier et al., 2002); somatic complaints (Drossman et al., 1990; Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994; Waigandt et al., 1990); and a perception of poorer health (Cloutier et al., 2002; Golding, Cooper, & George, 1997; Kimerling & Calhoun, 1994; Waigandt et al., 1990). However, it is not clear if the relationship between sexual victimization and physical health problems is the same for women who experience sexual victimization by a partner.

Some research that has specifically examined women who have experienced ISV has also found evidence of similar physical health problems. One study of women who were sexually victimized by their spouses found that women ascribed a number of physical health problems, such as bladder infections, urinary tract infections, vaginal and anal bleeding, dysmenorrhea, miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, and STDs to their sexual victimization experiences (Campbell & Alford, 1989). …

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