A Review of the Health Effects of Sexual Assault on African American Women and Adolescents


  • The authors report no conflict of interest or relevant financial relationships.


Pamela Wadsworth, RN, WHNP–BC, MS, SANE-A, Arizona State University, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, 500 North 3rd Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004. pwadswor@asu.edu



To review the research findings for mental and physical health outcomes and health behaviors of African American women and adolescents after sexual assault.

Data Sources

Searches of the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, and PubMed from January 2001 through May 2012 using the terms Blacks, African Americans, sexual abuse, sexual offenses, and rape.

Study Selection

Criteria for inclusion included (a) results of primary research conducted in the United States and published in English, (b) African American females age 13 and older, (c) sexual assault or sexual abuse reported as distinct from other types of abuse, and (d) health status as an outcome variable. Twenty-one publications met inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction

Articles were reviewed for the mental and physical health and health behavior outcomes associated with sexual assault of African American women and adolescents.

Data Synthesis

Sexual assault was associated with increased risk of poor mental and physical health outcomes in the general population of women and adolescents. There was an increased risk of unhealthy behaviors (e.g., drinking, drug use, risky sexual behaviors) for all women and adolescents, with the highest risk reported for African American women and adolescents. Help seeking from family and friends demonstrated conflicting results. Cumulative effects of repeated assaults appear to worsen health outcomes.


Sexual assault has significant effects on the physical and mental health and health behaviors of women and adolescents in the general population. Less evidence is available for differences among African American women and adolescents. More research is needed to understand the influence of race on women's and adolescents’ responses to assault.