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Many mentally ill women assaulted

A “staggering” number of women with severe mental illnesses are victims of serious sexual assault, experts have found.

Two in every five women with such problems have suffered rape or attempted rape, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

And more than half of these victims had attempted suicide as a result, according to the researchers from University College London and King’s College London.

This compares to 7% of women in the general population who had been raped or are the victim of attempted rape, they said.

Meanwhile 12% of men with severe mental illness said they had been a victim of a serious sexual assault compared with 0.5% of the general population.

Researchers also found that people with serious mental health issues were more likely to suffer from domestic violence.

Their findings are based on interviews with 300 psychiatric outpatients, 60% of whom had schizophrenia. Their replies were compared to 22,000 responses to the 2011-12 national crime survey.

“The number of rape victims among women with severe mental illness is staggering,” said lead author Dr Hind Khalifeh from UCL.

“At the time of the survey, 10% had experienced sexual assault in the past year, showing that the problems continue throughout adulthood.

“Considering the high rate of suicide attempts among rape victims in this group, clinicians assessing people after a suicide attempt should consider asking them if they have been sexually assaulted. Currently this is not done and so patients may miss opportunities to receive specialist support.”

Senior author Louise Howard, professor in women’s mental health at King’s College London, added: “This study highlights that patients with severe mental illness are at substantially increased risk of being a victim of domestic and sexual violence. Despite the public’s concern about violence being perpetrated by patients with severe mental illness, the reality for patients is that they are at increased risk of being victims of some of the most damaging types of violence.”

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