FRIDAY, May 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Most American servicewomen who are sexually assaulted don't seek health care right away, a new study suggests.
Of more than 200 women who said they had been sexually assaulted while in the armed forces, fewer than one-third sought medical care after the attack, researchers found.
"There are numerous health consequences associated with sexual assault," said lead author Dr. Michelle Mengeling, an affiliate investigator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
"Examples include gynecologic, gastrointestinal, chronic pain symptoms and sexual dysfunction. There are also mental health outcomes such as [post-traumatic stress disorder], depression, substance abuse and anxiety," she said in a VA news release.
According to the study authors, women who are sexually assaulted tend to need more health care than other women in the years after they're assaulted. The study looked at how often women sought care within six months of an assault to better understand obstacles that prevent assault victims from seeking help.
The researchers interviewed 1,339 veterans and current servicewomen. Of those, 207 said they were sexually assaulted while serving.
Only about one-third sought health care in direct connection to their assault, and only four received both medical and mental health care within six months, the study authors found.
"Few women got care and few women reported [the assault]," said Mengeling, an associate research scientist at the University of Iowa. "Sexual assault is widely considered the most serious and traumatic crime possible, short of homicide. One of the first steps in potentially mitigating some of the negative health effects of sexual assault is seeking immediate post-assault medical and mental health care."
Women commonly reported that "they did not immediately seek care because they were embarrassed, or did not think they needed medical attention," she said. Women also talked about concerns regarding confidentiality and their military careers, according to the study in the April issue of Medical Care.
Prior research has shown that women in the military experience higher rates of sexual assault than their non-military peers, according to the researchers.
For more about sexual assault in the military, check the Service Women's Action Network.