Funded by the Australian Federation of Medical Women (AFMW) and the Victorian Medical Women’s Society, this project involves a comprehensive literature review to highlight the long term physical and psychological health sequelae of sexual trauma and examines whether this understanding translates into medical education and best practice in medical treatment.
It is estimated that one in three women in Australia are victims of sexual trauma over their lifetime (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004). We know from research currently available that affected women have multiple health problems both physically and psychologically. Sexual trauma is a leading contributor to premature death, suicide, disability, and illness in younger women outweighing other health and disease burdens such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Government initiatives to date have focused on prevention of violence and the immediate aftermath of disclosure of sexual trauma with crisis intervention. With most survivors not disclosing sexual trauma for at least 10 years these initiatives, while extremely important, do not address the burden of disease or the health and wellbeing issues that may be ongoing or exacerbated by events over the course of a lifetime, for example, childbirth, breastfeeding, pap smears, self breast examination, and dental procedures.
This project will provide information to the AFMW about the complexities of sexual trauma on women. This is to help AFMW members sensitise doctors to the effects of childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual trauma. Such an understanding of the background to the problems will go some way to enabling doctors to do good - help these women with their health issues - and do no harm - minimise inadvertent retraumatisation during the health care encounter. The AFMW will make recommendations to government for areas of primary research, links between research and service delivery, and the need for an integrated approach to treatment.
Professor S. Caroline Taylor
Dr Judith Pugh