Four out of five teenage girls who have been sexually assaulted are suffering from crippling mental health problems months after their attack, new research has found.
Victims were found to have anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious conditions four to five months after being assaulted.
Experts said the findings confirmed that becoming a victim of abuse in childhood can lead to mental health issues that can persist into adulthood and last a lifetime.
The study involved 137 girls aged between 13 and 17 – average age 15.6 years – who were assaulted between April 2013 and April 2015. It was undertaken by academics from University College London (UCL) and specialist staff from King’s College hospital NHS trust who work in three sexual assault referral centres around the capital, where the victims were treated.
When the girls were examined four to five months after being attacked, 80% of them had at least one mental health disorder. More than half (55%) had at least two disorders.
The findings, published in a study called mental and sexual health outcomes following adolescent sexual assault, are in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health medical journal.
Researchers found that girls who had been assaulted were disproportionately likely to be from deprived or troubled backgrounds. Three-quarters were from a poor family, one in five had had a statement of special educational needs and more than half had previously been involved with social services.
In addition, half had sought help from NHS mental health services in the 12 months before being attacked.
A number of the girls (4%) had become pregnant after being assaulted, 12% had had a sexually transmitted infection and 8% – one in 12 – had been the subject of another sexual assault.
– Denis Campbell
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