| The Mental Health Impact of
Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D.
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
Medical University of South Carolina
The National Women's Study produced dramatic confirmation of the mental health impact of rape. The study determined comparative rates of several mental health problems among rape victims and non-victims. The study ascertained whether rape victims were more likely than non-victims to experience these devastating mental health problems. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
The first mental health problem examined was posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an extremely debilitating disorder occurring after a highly disturbing traumatic event, such as military combat or violent crime.
Rape victims were 6.2 times more likely to develop PTSD than women who had never been victims of crime (31% vs 5%).
Rape victims were 5.5 times more likely to have current PTSD than those who had never been victims of crime (11% Vs 2%).
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are approximately 96.3 million adult women in the United States age 18 or older. If 13% of American women have been raped and 31% of rape victims have developed PTSD, then 3.8 million adult American women have had rape-related PTSD (RR-PTSD):
I f 683,000 women are raped each year, approximately 211,000 will develop RR-PTSD annually
Major depression is a problem affecting many women, not just rape victims. However, 30% of rape victims had experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetimes, and 21% of all rape victims were experiencing a major depressive episode at the time of assessment:
Rape victims were three times more likely than non-victims of crime to have ever had a major depressive episode (30% Vs 10%). Also, they were 3.5 times more likely to be currently experiencing a major depressive episode (21% Vs 6%).
Rape victims were 4.1 times more likely than non-crime victims to have contemplated suicide.
Rape victims were 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide (13% Vs 1%).
There was substantial evidence that rape victims had higher rates than non-victims of drug and alcohol consumption and a greater likelihood of having drug and alcohol-related problems. Compared to women who had never been crime victims, rape victims with RR-PTSD were:
26 times more likely to have two or more major serious drug abuse problems (7.8% Vs 0.3%).
Key Concerns of Rape Victims
To effectively respond to rape victims, service providers and criminal justice officials need to understand the major concerns of rape victims. Without accurate information, it is difficult to develop policies and programs to meet victims’ needs.
The National Women’s Study identified several critical concerns. To determine whether victims’ concerns have changed over time, the study divided these concerns into two categories: all rape victims vs. victims that had been raped within the previous five years (1987-91). The changes in concerns included: