Objective. Studies suggest that rape increases risk of medically unexplained pain in women. At present it is not clear whether rape is associated with pain at specific locations or at multiple locations. In this study we tested the hypothesis that rape was associated with a preferential increase in risk of pelvic pain that was not explained by pain at other sites.
Design. We relied on an existing community study that oversampled women with fibromyalgia and major depression. Localization was assessed by asking about pain at four sites: pelvic region; jaw/face; headache; and lower back. Three groups were identified using a structured telephone interview: Abuse Only (sexual/physical abuse excluding rape); Rape + Abuse (rape in addition to other sexual/physical abuse); and No Abuse.
Results. Compared with the No Abuse group, the Rape + Abuse group was eight times more likely to have pelvic pain and 3.7 times more likely to have jaw/face pain after we controlled for the effect of widespread pain. Rape was not associated with lower back pain or headache. The Abuse Only group did not show a preferential increase in risk of pain at any of the four locations that were assessed. After controlling for pain at other locations, we found that the Rape + Abuse group was 10 times more likely to report pelvic pain than the No Abuse group (P < 0.005).
Discussion. In accord with the localization hypothesis, self-reported rape was uniquely associated with pelvic pain. Future efforts to account for pain in the aftermath of rape must specify a mechanism that can simultaneously cause widespread pain as well as increase risk of localized pain.