Nearly Half of Sexual Assault Survivors Recover from PTSD-Related Symptoms Three Months Later

Emily R. Dworkin, Anna E. Jaffe, Michele Bedard-Gilligan, Skye Fitzpatrick
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Sexual assault is associated with higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than other traumas, and the course of PTSD may differ by trauma type. However, the course of PTSD after sexual assault has not been summarized. The aim of this meta-analysis was to identify the prevalence and severity of PTSD and changes to the average rate of recovery in the 12 months following sexual assault.

“One of the main takeaways is that the majority of recovery from post-traumatic stress happens in first three months,” says lead study author Emily Dworkin, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UW’s School of Medicine, in a university release. “We hope this will give survivors and clinicians a sense of what to expect and convey some hope.”

Authors searched four databases for prospective studies published before April 2020 and sought relevant unpublished data. Eligible studies assessed PTSD in at least 10 survivors of sexual assault in at least two time points, starting within 3 months postassault. Random effects linear-linear piecewise models were used to identify changes in average recovery rate and produce model-implied estimates of monthly point prevalence and mean symptom severity.


Meta-analysis of 22 unique samples (N = 2,106) indicated that 74.58% (95% confidence interval [CI]: [67.21, 81.29]) and 41.49% (95% CI: [32.36, 50.92]) of individuals met diagnostic criteria for PTSD at the first and 12th month following sexual assault, respectively. PTSD symptom severity was 47.94% (95% CI: [41.27, 54.61]) and 29.91% (95% CI: [23.10, 36.73]) of scales’ maximum severity at the first and 12th month following sexual assault, respectively. Most symptom recovery occurred within the first 3 months following sexual assault, after which point the average rate of recovery slowed.

Findings indicate that PTSD is common and severe following sexual assault, and the first 3 months postassault may be a critical period for natural recovery.

sexual violence, rape, post-traumatic stress disorder, meta-analysis; victimization

Dworkin, E. R., Jaffe, A. E., Bedard-Gilligan, M., & Fitzpatrick, S. (2021). PTSD in the Year Following Sexual Assault: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse

Posted on BrainLine July 21, 2021. Reviewed July 21, 2021.