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Sexual Assault in Women Linked to Later-Life Brain Damage: Study

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Sexual Assault in Women Linked to Later-Life Brain Damage

Sexual Assault in Women Linked to Later-Life Brain Damage

Sep 23, 2021

Women who have been sexually assaulted early in life have a higher risk of developing a specific type of brain damage, according to a troubling new study. The particular type of brain damage identified by the study has reportedly been linked to:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Dementia
  • Stroke

Conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, the study was presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society. It offers a number of findings related to what a CNN report called a “growing body of research on the long-term impact of sexual assault on the body and the mind.”

“It could be either childhood sexual abuse or adult sexual assault,” Professor Rebecca Thurston, the study’s author and director of the Women’s Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, told CNN in an interview.

“Based upon population data, most women have their sexual assaults when they are in early adolescence and early adulthood,” she added, “so these are likely early experiences that we’re seeing the marks of later in life.”

As CNN reported, prior studies have found sexual trauma to be specifically linked to:

  • Higher levels of triglycerides in midlife
  • Higher blood pressure in midlife
  • A three-fold greater risk of developing carotid plaque

All of the above are confirmed to be key risk factors for heart disease.

“We need to keep our attention on this issue of sexual violence against women and not let it fall off the radar screen of society, because it continues to be a major women’s health issue,” Thurston added.

In a 2018 study, Thurston found that when compared to women without a history of sexual trauma, those who reported prior sexual assault were actually:

  • Three times more likely to experience depression
  • Twice as likely to have elevated anxiety
  • Twice as likely to have elevated insomnia

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three women in the U.S. (and one in four men) experience sexual assault at least once in their lifetimes. With such a significant portion of the population being impacted by sexual assault, Thurston acknowledged to CNN that physicians should be asking their patients about “any prior sexual trauma, and then carefully monitoring the woman’s cardiovascular risk as she ages.

Additionally, Thurston says women who have been sexually traumatized should feel empowered to speak up and disclose the matter to their doctors, particularly given the effects sexual violence can have on a woman’s overall health as she ages.

“Absolutely share this information with your health care providers,” Thurston said. “This is not your fault, so please share what you are comfortable with disclosing. It’s important information that has implications for your physical health and your emotional well-being.”

The revealing new study, which is set to be published in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior, reportedly looked for signs of white matter hyperintensities in the brain scans of 145 midlife women who had no prior history of either cardiovascular disease, stroke, or dementia.

Of those participants, however, 68% had experienced some form of trauma (and for 23% of the women involved in the study, that trauma was sexual assault).
Sexual Assault in Women Tied to Increased Stroke, Dementia Risk

CNN reports that white matter hyperintensities show up as small spots of white on MRIs. These white marks are actually markers of disruptions in blood flow that have left damage in the brain.

“Using brain imaging, we found that women with a history of sexual assault have greater white matter hyperintensities in the brain, which is an indicator of small vessel disease that has been linked to stroke, dementia, cognitive decline, and mortality,” Thurston said to CNN.

CNN’s report noted that the study controlled for other diseases and conditions which would affect the development of white matter hyperintensities. Such diseases/conditions could include:

  • Age
  • Hypertension
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes

The study reportedly also controlled for various emotional disorders, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

According to Thurston, the increase in white matter hyperintensities “wasn’t explained by these subjective symptoms of distress.

“It’s almost like your body has a memory that may not be fully manifesting through psychological symptoms. The sexual assault also leaves footprints of the trauma in our brains and our bodies,” she added.

Reporting Sexual Assault

As Thurston noted in her interview with CNN, sexual assault survivors should feel empowered to speak about such incidents with their healthcare providers. Additionally, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, coming forward to report a sex crime and file a civil lawsuit can also be very empowering for survivors on a number of levels.

That said, the vast majority of sexual assaults actually go unreported. Dordulian Law Group’s partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), has confirmed the following statistics related to underreporting of sexual assault:

  • Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free
  • Only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assault crimes are ever reported to police
  • Only 50 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to arrest
  • Only 28 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to a felony conviction
  • Only 25 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to a perpetrator being incarcerated

Reasons for not reporting can be extremely personal and also vary depending on the unique circumstances of the crime. According to RAINN’s statistics, for sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, survivors offered the following reasons:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason (or did not cite one reason)

But while many survivors do not report sex crimes due to a lack of faith in the criminal justice system, the civil courts offer a means – although not as well known – for both obtaining justice on one’s own terms and recovering financial compensation in the process. Through a civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group (DLG), we will fight to ensure your perpetrator is brought to justice via a claim in pursuit of a maximum financial damages award.

DLG’s Unique Form of Sexual Assault Representation

Sam Dordulian founded DLG following a decorated career as a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. In that role, he obtained life sentences against some of our community’s most dangerous sexual predators. Dordulian has dedicated his life to helping sexual assault survivors. Together with his experienced team of sexual assault attorneys, Dordulian is here when you’re ready to take the first step towards securing justice and filing a civil claim.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, contact a member of our SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) today for a free and no obligation consultation. DLG provides survivors with unique and all-encompassing representation that goes beyond the very best legal expertise available. As a sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian witnessed first-hand how sexual assault survivors often benefit from additional resources and support throughout the legal process.

As a result, when he founded DLG’s Sex Crimes Division to be the leading sexual assault firm in the nation, Dordulian also implemented a four-tiered team of professionals that could provide unique benefits to survivors.

DLG’s SAJE Team is available 24/7 to survivors as a four-tiered support network:

  • Litigation Lead: Sam Dordulian, former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County with over 100 jury trial victories and 25 years of experience
  • Investigative Lead: Moses Castillo, in-house Chief Investigator and retired LAPD sex crimes detective in the elite Abused Child Unit with over 30 years of experience
  • Mental Health Lead: In-house licensed clinical therapist with over 15 years of experience specifically assisting sexual assault survivors
  • Advocate Leads: Two licensed and nationally accredited victim advocates who have devoted their lives to helping sexual assault survivors

As the study by Rebecca Thurston of the University of Pittsburgh indicated, sexual assault can have significant health effects on survivors – particularly later in life. That’s one of the many reasons why DLG offers a more comprehensive and all-encompassing form of combined legal representation and personalized support throughout the claims process. We understand how difficult coming forward to report sexual assault can be, but we’ve also seen how empowering obtaining justice on one’s own terms through a civil lawsuit is for so many survivors.

Accordingly, we encourage all sexual assault survivors to come forward as soon as possible and report their perpetrators. Doing so could have a substantially positive impact on one’s emotional, physical, and – in instances where civil claims are filed – financial well-being.

DLG’s Unparalleled Experience and Proven Results for Survivors Like You

In addition to our unique and all-encompassing SAJE Team, DLG provides each and every survivor with the utmost respect, discretion, professionalism, and dedication. We know how arduous the process of reporting a sexual assault can be, and we’re here to listen, to believe, and to support survivors in their pursuit of justice through civil lawsuits.

Our unparalleled experience and proven results are why sexual assault survivors throughout the nation consistently choose DLG to handle their claims, obtain justice, and recover maximum financial compensation on their behalf:

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

  • More than $100,000,000 recovered in settlements and verdicts
  • A 98% success record
  • More than 100 jury trial victories
  • Former sex crimes prosecutor
  • Former Deputy District Attorney for L.A. County
  • In-house Chief Investigator/retired LAPD detective
  • More than 25 years of sex crimes experience

Contact us today for a free and no obligation consultation to discuss your sexual assault case at 818-322-4056. DLG has successfully helped countless survivors recover maximum financial damages awards and obtain the justice they deserve on their own terms.

We accept every case on a contingency fee agreement, which means you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses when securing the very best legal representation available. Our No Win/No Fee Guarantee means you don’t pay a penny until we recover maximum financial compensation for your sexual assault claim.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you secure the justice you deserve.


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