There are many things weighing on a victim’s mind after she has been sexually assaulted. There may be many enduring health and financial ramifications that can arise from a sexual assault. One of the health ramifications that can weigh most heavily upon the victim’s mind is the potential to contract a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) from the perpetrator.
It is important to note that STIs have formerly been referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, venereal diseases, and VD. As STI is formally defined as "an infection that can be transferred from one person to another through sexual contact."
Although it is relatively rare, women can contract a wide range of STIs as a result of a sexual assault. STIs can be contracted in four different ways:
The most common bacterial STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis (BV) and syphilis. Victims of sexual assault are much more likely to contract a bacterial STI than any other kind. These diseases can be easily treated by antibiotics if they are caught in the early stages; however, if the victim waits for too long to seek treatment, these diseases can have severe, negative effects on the victim’s long-term health. These diseases, if left untreated, can cause serious damage to the victim’s reproductive organs so that she cannot have children in the future. Also, many of these diseases can be passed on during pregnancy to the victim’s children, resulting in adverse health consequences for the victim’s children as well.
The most serious viral STIs are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis B, genital herpes, and genital warts. There are no known cures for these diseases; once a victim contracts one of these diseases, she will have it for the rest of her life. There are medicines to manage the symptoms of these diseases or to stop the spread of these diseases. For example, a person can have genital herpes, but he can manage to not have a “flare-up” of herpes sores for several years because of medication available. Left untreated, these diseases may lead to more serious health concerns such as a higher risk of cancer. Moreover, if HIV is left untreated, it can lead to the victim’s death.
Trichomoniasis (or “trich”) is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Although symptoms of the disease vary, most women who have the parasite cannot tell they are infected. This disease is easily treated through medical intervention, usually a single dose of antibiotic medication. Trichomoniasis increases the victim’s chances of contracting other STIs. Also, if the victim decides to have a baby later, her baby is more likely to be premature and suffer a low birth weight.
Victims can also contract STIs from other organisms. These include crabs/pubic lice and scabies. These organisms are actually little animals that live on the victim’s body. Although these diseases cause the victim a lot of itching and discomfort, they are easily treated by topical creams.
The most common symptoms of STIs across the board are no symptoms at all. Thus, a victim should be encouraged to get tested for STIs after a sexual assault, regardless of whether she is displaying any symptoms. Then, if she develops symptoms down the line, such as itching, pain, discharge, bleeding, sores, or lower abdominal pain, the victim should be encouraged to seek medical help.
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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.