Follow-up of sexual assault victims

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1998 Aug;179(2):336-42. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9378(98)70361-8.


Objectives: Our goal was to describe medical findings and health-related concerns of sexual assault victims who returned for follow-up and to assess demographic and assault characteristics of victims who used follow-up services compared to those who did not.

Study design: This study is a retrospective cohort analysis involving records from two sources: the acute sexual assault evidentiary examination and the SAFE (Sexual Assault Follow-up Evaluation) Clinic visit. Data were extracted from the records of 389 adolescent and adult victims who reported an acute sexual assault and underwent a complete evidentiary examination between January 1, 1995, and June 30, 1997. Descriptive statistics were generated on demographic and historical information, assault characteristics, and medical and laboratory findings. For the subgroup that presented for follow-up, additional descriptive statistics were generated to describe their interim history, concerns, medical outcomes, treatments, and psychosocial functioning. Chi2 analyses were used to identify differences in the group that returned for follow-up compared with the group that did not. Statistical significance was defined as P < .05.

Results: There were no differences in age, race, or perpetrator factors between patients who used follow-up services and patients who did not return to the SAFE Clinic. Similarly, there were no other assault characteristics, relationships, or physical examination findings that were associated with follow-up patterns. A total of 31% (n = 122) of all sexual assault victims returned for a follow-up visit. Physical complaints were reported by 42.6%, but 98.0% had normal findings at a general examination, and 94.8% had a normal result of gynecologic examination. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus, were identified through the follow-up clinic. Since the assault, 49.2% had been sexually active, 10% with multiple partners and 73.3% without consistent condom use. Disturbances in sleep, sexual function, and appetite were commonly reported among victims at follow-up. Numerous assault-related fears were reported.

Conclusions: Among recent rape victims, follow-up rates are low, and there are no factors that correlate with the use of follow-up services. Those who do come in for follow-up have physical complaints and health-related concerns that are related to their recent assault, but most have normal physical findings. Efforts to reach sexual assault victims will require aggressive and innovative strategies to remain in contact with women and girls after rape.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Health Services
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Rape*
  • Retrospective Studies