Women who are sexually assaulted experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence, a new Rutgers-New Brunswick study has found.
Compared with other traumatic life-altering events, the memories of sexual assault remain intense and vivid for years, even when not linked to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the study authors said.
The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, has found that women who had suffered from sexual violence, even those who were not diagnosed with PTSD, had more intense memories — even decades after the violence occurred — that are difficult, if not impossible to forget.
For the study, the researchers studied almost 200 women, aged 18 to 39, including 64 women who were victims of sexual violence. Fewer than 10 percent were taking anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs.
“To some extent, it is not surprising that these memories relate to more feelings of depression and anxiety, because these women remember what happened and think about it a lot,” said co-author Tracey Shors, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.
“But these feelings and thoughts are usually associated with PTSD. And most women in our study who experienced these vivid memories did not suffer from PTSD, which is generally associated with more intense mental and physical reactions,” Shors said in a university news release.
The women who suffered sexual violence had clear, strong memories, including details of the event. Moreover, they had a hard time forgetting the incident and viewed it as a defining part of their life, the researchers found.
“Each time you reflect on an old memory, you make a new one in your brain because it is retrieved in the present space and time,” Shors said. “What this study shows is that this process can make it even more difficult to forget what happened.”
Other research has found that sexual aggression and violence are likely causes of PTSD in women. PTSD can be physically and mentally debilitating and difficult to overcome, the researchers noted.
According to Emma Millon, who is a graduate student and co-author of the report, “Women in our study who ruminated more frequently also reported more trauma-related symptoms. One could imagine how rumination could exacerbate trauma symptoms and make recovery from the trauma more difficult.”
The World Health Organization reports that 30 percent of women around the world experience physical or sexual assault in their lifetime, with teens most likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or assault.
Studies have also found that as many as one in five college students experiences sexual violence during their school years.
New vaginal ring to prevent HIV, pregnancy is safe: Study
An experimental vaginal ring designed to prevent pregnancy and HIV looks safe, according to an early stage study.
The ring is designed to provide 90 days’ protection at a time. The dual-purpose ring releases the antiretroviral drug dapivirine and the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel, said researchers led by Dr Sharon Achilles, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
This small, 14-day trial involving 24 women who were not pregnant and not infected with HIV was the first clinical study of the ring.
“We are very encouraged by our findings in this first-in-human study of the dapivirine-levonorgestrel ring,” said Achilles, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences.
Its use resulted in sufficient levels of levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy and adequate levels of dapivirine to reduce risk of HIV infection, the researchers noted.
There were no safety concerns, and the ring was well-tolerated, according to the Microbicide Trials Network study.
The researchers have started a second Phase 1 trial in which women will use the ring for 90 days.
“With a second study underway, we are another step closer to potentially having an easy-to-use product that can provide safe and effective, long-acting protection against both HIV and unintended pregnancy,” Achilles said in a network news release.
The research was funded by the US National Institutes of Health and presented Wednesday (Oct 24) at an HIV prevention conference, in Madrid, Spain.
Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.