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An Early Treatment for PTSD in Women Who Have Been Raped

Reducing the Likelihood of PTSD in Rape Victims


Updated January 29, 2012

Women who are raped are at high risk to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the early treatment for PTSD for women who have been raped may be helpful in reducing the likelihood that the disorder develops.

Anywhere between 12 and 15% of women have experienced a rape at some point in their lifetime, and each year, it is estimated that approximately 683,000 women will be raped.

Women who have experienced a rape are at high risk for a number of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The experience of a rape is also strongly linked to the development of PTSD. In fact, it has been found that 31 to 57% of women who have experienced a rape also have PTSD at some point thereafter.

Given the negative mental health consequences of experiencing a rape, it may be important to intervene early on in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that PTSD or other mental health problems develop.

An Early Intervention

A group of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and at the Boston VA developed a brief intervention that can be provided to women during the routine medical and forensic examination that many receive after being raped.

The intervention is delivered through a 17-minute video that can be played during the examination. The first part of the video is designed to help reduce distress associated with the examination. It describes the examination and tells people what to expect. The video also shows a person going through and coping with the examination.

The second part of the video provides information on how people may react following the experience of a rape. It explains the types of symptoms that may arise after rape. In addition, information on effective coping skills for dealing with these symptoms are also provided.

Effectiveness of the Video Intervention

To determine the success of the video intervention in reducing the likelihood of mental health problems developing after the rape, researchers used it during the medical and forensic examinations of a group of women and adolescent girls who had been sexually assaulted in the past 72 hours.

The video intervention was found to only be effective for women or girls who had been raped before. These individuals reported less severe PTSD symptoms and depression 6 weeks later than those who did not have the video intervention.

You may be asking why the intervention did not work for everyone. It may be that women or girls who have been raped before represent more severe cases and could be at greater risk for PTSD. Therefore, the intervention may be more effective for this group of people.

The Importance of Early Action

If you have experienced a rape, it is very important to take steps early on to prevent the likelihood that PTSD or other mental health difficulties develop. In addition, given that physical injuries or other medical problems (such as sexually transmitted diseases) may result from a rape, it is very important to obtain immediate medical care. The United States Department of Health and Human Services provides information on sexual assault, as well as information on what to do if you have been sexually assaulted.

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Kilpatrick, D.G., Saunders, B.E., Veronen, L.J., Best, C.L., & Von, J.M. (1987). Criminal victimization: Lifetime prevalence, reporting to police, and psychological impact. Crime & Delinquency, 33, 479-489.

Resnick, H., Acierno, R., Waldrop, A.E., King, L., King, D., Danielson, C., Ruggiero, K.J., & Kilpatrick, D. (2007). Randomized controlled evaluation of an early intervention to prevent post-rape psychopathology. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2342-2447.

Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D.G., Dansky, B.S., Saunders, B.E., & Best, C.L. (1993). Prevalence of civilian trauma and PTSD in a representative sample of women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 985-991.

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