More Victims of Sexual Assault are Seeking Emergency Room Care: Study
Emergency room visits linked to sexual assaults have increased more than 15-fold since 2006, according to the findings of a new study, which suggests that the data may actually be a sign of better reporting and cultural recognition about sexual assaults in the United States.
Researchers from the University of Michigan found that between 2006 and 2019, ER visits due to sexual assaults went from about 3,600 to 55,200, according to findings published last week in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.
Sexual assault survivors often experience a number of serious health problems. However, in the past, few have sought emergency medical care after an assault. Quantifying the number and types of sexual assault survivors who go to emergency rooms could help with the development of strategies that may reduce the impact of those health problems, according to researchers, potentially even helping reduce the risk of deaths from sexual assault injuries.
Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of sexual assault data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) from 2006 through 2019, including more than 35.8 million observations from the ERs of 989 hospitals nationwide. They also looked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which contains yearly crime data from 18,000 law enforcement agencies representing more than 300 million people living in the U.S.
According to the findings, sexual assault-related emergency department visits increased more than 1,533% from 2006 through 2019, going from 3,607 such visits in 2006 to 55,295 in 2019. However, the actual admission rates from these visits decreased from 12.6% to 4.3%, which some interpret as more victims presenting to the emergency room after a sexual assault even if their injuries were not severe.
The most likely sexual assault victims to go to an emergency room were female, younger, and lower-income, however older and Medicaid-insured individuals were more likely to be admitted.
The researchers also reported that the rate of emergency department visits outpaced law enforcement reporting of sexual assault incidents. They suggest changes in hospital coding and social justice movements, like #metoo, increased the willingness of survivors to seek emergency department treatment following sexual assaults.
“Our analysis of the NEDS database from 2006 through 2019 suggests that adult SA survivors are increasingly presenting to US EDs,” the researchers concluded. “Although SA still comprises a small proportion of total ED visits at 0.06%, this magnitude of increase suggests that certain factors may be encouraging survivors to seek ED care.”
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