By: Samantha Breitner, Associate in G&E’s Civil Rights Practice Group According to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women who experienced sexual violence or workplace sexual assault have a greater risk for developing high blood pressure than women who did not. This correlation is “not widely recognized as a contributor to women’s cardiovascular health,” said Rebecca Lawn, the study’s author, as only up to 44% of women report sexual assault. Lawn is a postdoctoral research fellow in epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. The study analyzed data from a 2008 report from an ongoing investigation (known as Nurses’ Health Study II) into the major risk factors of chronic disease in women. The data surveyed 33,000 women (with no history of high blood pressure), providing information about their experience with sexual trauma. The women were evaluated seven years later, where data suggested that 1 in 5 of the women analyzed developed high blood pressure. The greatest risk was found to be among women who experienced sexual violence both at work and in their personal lives. Nancy Krieger, author of the 2008 study, said, “Not everyone is able and willing to identify what happened to them, but that doesn’t prevent the body from having opinions about it and expressing them.” Interestingly, the study did not find an increased risk for hypertension among women that did not experience sexual violence, but experienced other types of trauma. This suggests that an increased risk of high blood pressure may not be linked with exposure to all trauma.

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