Sexual trauma in women: The importance of identifying a history of sexual violence
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Nursing and Midwifery / Clinical Nursing and Midwifery Research Centre
Background One in three women in Australia will experience sexual violence at some time in their life. Although these women use health services more than nonvictimised women, they may not receive the holistic care they need if their sexual trauma history is not known. Objective This article discusses the importance of opportunistically identifying a history of sexual violence in women presenting to general practice in order to provide optimal healthcare and avoid iatrogenic retraumatisation. Discussion A history of sexual violence is associated with an increased incidence of long term physical and psychological health problems, psychosocial difficulties, risk taking behaviours and premature death. Most survivors do not disclose a history of sexual violence to their doctors. Without this context, their ongoing health issues may not be fully understood, leading to suboptimal care. A safe environment is vital to support disclosure. General practitioners are well placed to identify, support and treat and/or appropriately refer women with a history of sexual violence. Priorities in management include addressing the pervasive long term consequences of sexual violence, encouraging preventive care and avoiding inadvertent retraumatisation.