Sexual assault, harassment can lead to long-term health problems for women
Women who report they have been sexually assaulted are nearly three times as likely to experience signs of depression and are twice as likely to have elevated levels of anxiety than their peers, according to a new study published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Of the 304 women between the ages of 40 and 60 who participated, 19% reported they had been sexually harassed at work, and 22% said they had been sexually assaulted. Ten percent of study participants had experienced both harassment and assault.
Women who were sexually assaulted were more than twice as likely to report having sleep patterns consistent with clinical insomnia.
Women who reported being sexually harassed at work were twice as likely to have untreated high blood pressure or poorer sleep than women who did not report experiencing workplace harassment.
"Given the high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, addressing these prevalent and potent social exposures may be critical to promoting health and preventing disease in women," the study authors concluded.
A 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that "anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace."
The study found highly educated women were more likely to be harassed at work, which study authors surmised could be because those women tend to be employed in male-dominated settings.
Sexual harassment has been a known issue in academic medicine for years. Another analysis published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine surveyed 790 physicians in Germany from 2012 to 2015 and found 70% reported some form of misconduct while at work, with 22% of women reporting they experienced unwanted physical contact.
Women make up 34% of the country's physician workforce, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, but that varies depending on the medical specialty. According to 2015 figures from the American Medical Association, women make up 58% of residents in family medicine, 57% in psychiatry and 75% in pediatrics, but account for 37% of residents in anesthesiology and 27% of radiology residents.
Last month, Institute of Medicine President Dr. Victor Dzau and Wellesley College President Dr. Paula Johnson co-wrote an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine where they suggested the intense competitive nature of the medical education and training environment could facilitate incidents of harassment while making it difficult for victims to report such cases for fear of reprisals.
"Sexual harassment in academic medicine is a symptom of systematic failures that prevent the medical workforce from operating at its fullest potential," Johnson and Dzau wrote. "As leaders, we ignore this problem at our peril."
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.