Serious Crime Victims Risk PTSD, Multiple Disorders

October 28, 1998

Victims of rape and other serious crimes are at high risk of developing a range of emotional disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, phobias, and obsessive compulsive disorder, a study of nearly 400 South Carolina women reveals.

The effects were strongest for rape and other life-threatening crimes, while robbery and burglary were not linked to an increased risk of any mental disorder, report Edwin Boudreaux, PhD, now at the Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dean G. Kilpatrick, PhD, Director of the National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, and colleagues.

"While crimes such as aggravated assault may increase the risk of developing a serious mental disorder, if the crime specifically involves a completed rape or perceived life threat, the risk increases dramatically," Boudreaux says.

The researchers interviewed 391 women from Charleston, South Carolina, about their experience with crime and their mental health symptoms. Their findings are reported in the Fall issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress (Vol. 11, No. 4).

About three quarters of the women had experienced at least one crime; 23 percent had been the victim of a rape, 10 percent had been physically assaulted, about 6 percent had been robbed, and 13 percent had experienced a burglary while at home.

Crime victims were more likely than non-victims to suffer currently from PTSD, a severe reaction to trauma that leaves people emotionally numb and overly aroused and leads them to reexperience the traumatic event repeatedly. Crime victims were also more likely to develop depression, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social phobia, the researchers found.

The relationship between being a crime victim and development of these other mental disorders appears to be strongest in the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers say, but it remains unclear whether the other disorders preceded or followed development of PTSD. Other researchers, Boudreaux and his colleagues say, "have found evidence that [these] disorders can possibly develop as secondary reactions to the stress of having PTSD."

"Our study confirms conclusions that PTSD victims rarely suffer PTSD alone," the researchers write. "If a victim develops PTSD, she will more likely suffer from some other disorder or dysfunction that may be just as debilitating and potentially life-threatening."

The Journal of Traumatic Stress is the peer-reviewed journal of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. For information about the society and the journal, contact the editor, Dean Kilpatrick, PhD, (843) 792-2945.
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Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert rhebert@cfah.org, (202) 387-2829.
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Center for Advancing Health

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