Young woman on floor hugging her knee and a weight scale and measuring tape in front of her.

Is There a Connection Between Sexual Assault and Eating Disorders?

Sexual Trauma and Eating Disorders

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Women ages 18 to 24 are at the highest risk of sexual violence. Sadly, it is estimated that 60% of sexual assaults go unreported. In addition to PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders, many survivors of sexual assault develop eating disorders in the aftermath of their trauma. Specialists refer to this relationship between eating disorders and sexual trauma as “comorbidity.” Here's what you should know.

What Studies Reveal About Sexual Assault and Eating Disorders

According to a report from Psychology Today, numerous types of trauma are associated with eating disorders, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and physical assault. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) also reports the following:

  • 30% of patients with eating disorders had experienced sexual abuse in childhood.
  • Disordered eating is a coping mechanism resulting from sexual traumas, including rape, molestation, harassment, and other forms of abuse.
  • Someone with an eating disorder often uses the control of food to suppress and avoid painful emotions.

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that

50% of anorectic and bulimic patients had a history of sexual abuse. The study also found some behavioral patterns related to sexual assault. For example, one patient in the study used the eating disorder to change their body image to provide a defense against future abuse.

The Long-Term Consequences Survivors Face

The trauma of sexual assault can impact survivors' relationships with their bodies. Many survivors struggle with body image issues and negative self-esteem after an assault. This can lead to unhealthy dieting behaviors and an obsession with weight and appearance. In addition to the increased risk of developing an eating disorder, sexual assault can pose a multitude of long-term psychological challenges, including:

  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Self-harm

Related Article:The Emotional Effects of Sexual Assault and Abuse

How to Get Legal Help After Sexual Assault

Survivors of sexual assault have many life-long challenges and often struggle with shame, guilt, and self-blame for the assault. Survivors of sexual assault deserve the support they need to help them through the healing process and gain closure.

At KMD Law, we understand how difficult it is to speak out against your perpetrator. We believe you, and when you are ready to speak out, we are here to support and guide you through every step of the legal process.

Contact us today at (833) 456-3529 to learn how we can help protect your rights and hold your perpetrator accountable for their actions.