Prevalence of lifetime sexual victimization among female patients

J Fam Pract. 1992 Nov;35(5):511-6.


Background: State and federal statistics describe a lower incidence of rape and child abuse than is suggested by community prevalence rates. Victims of sexual assault may experience numerous short-term and long-term effects on psychosocial and physical health. They tend to use medical services more than nonvictims and are also more likely to seek medical care than mental health services. This study seeks to determine the prevalence of sexual victimization in a family practice setting.

Methods: Women 18 years of age or older presenting to a combined family practice and university student health center for a routine Papanicolaou smear or a health maintenance visit voluntarily completed an anonymous sexual experiences questionnaire of 28 close-ended items.

Results: Of 416 consecutive women, 405 agreed to participate. Of 147 family practice patients, 47.6% reported some type of contact sexual victimization during their lifetimes; 25.2% reported rape or attempted rape. Of 258 student health service patients, 57% had experienced contact sexual victimization, and 28.7% reported rape or attempted rape. Of those who reported unwanted sexual contact, 30% of the family practice patients felt they would not be comfortable discussing the experience with medical personnel, and 44.9% of the student health service patients would not feel comfortable doing so.

Conclusions: Women with a history of unwanted sexual contact may be common in family practice and student health settings. Although treatment can be beneficial, many of these patients are not comfortable discussing their experiences with medical personnel. These findings suggest that there is potential benefit in obtaining a sexual victimization history as part of routine care, but further research will be necessary to assess the clinical benefit of such an approach.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Rape / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires