Are Sexual Assaults Related to Functional Somatic Disorders? A Cross-Sectional Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Oct 20;20(20):6947. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20206947.


Sofie Abildgaard Jacobsen 1Lisbeth Frostholm 1 2Cæcilie Böck Buhmann 3Marie Weinreich Petersen 1 2Eva Ørnbøl 1 2Thomas Meinertz Dantoft 4Anne Ahrendt Bjerregaard 4 5Lene Falgaard Eplov 6Tina Birgitte Wisbech Carstensen 1 2


Author information

1Research Clinic for Functional Disorders and Psychosomatics, Aarhus University Hospital, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark.

2Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.

3Mental Health Services, Capital Region of Denmark, 1172 Copenhagen, Denmark.

4Center for Clinical Research and Prevention, Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital, Capital Region of Denmark, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark.

5Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens Serum Institute, 2300 Copenhagen, Denmark.

6Copenhagen Research Centre for Mental Health-CORE (Eplov), Mental Health Centre Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


An increasing number of sexual assaults (SAs) are being reported. This study investigated associations between SA and FSD, conceptualized as bodily distress syndrome (BDS), and five functional somatic syndromes (FSSs): chronic widespread pain (CWP), irritable bowel (IB), chronic fatigue (CF), multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and whiplash-associated disorder (WAD). Participants (n = 7493) from the population-based cohort Danish Study of Functional Disorders (DanFunD) completed questionnaires on FSD, emotional distress, SA, and sociodemographics. Risk ratios (RRs) for each FSD and emotional distress were calculated in nine models with SA as the primary exposure using generalized linear models with binomial family and log link and were adjusted for other potential risk factors. The results showed that SA was associated with single-organ FSD (RR = 1.51; 95% CI = 1.22-1.87), multi-organ FSD (RR = 3.51; 95% CI = 1.89-6.49), CWP (RR = 1.28; 95% CI = 0.83-1.98), IB (RR = 2.00; 95% CI = 1.30-3.07), CF (RR = 1.81; 95% CI = 1.42-2.32), WAD (RR = 2.62; 95% CI = 1.37-5.03), MCS (RR = 3.04; 95% CI = 1.79-5.17), emotional distress (RR = 1.75; 95% CI = 1.21-2.54), and health anxiety (RR = 1.65; 95% CI = 1.10-2.46). Overall, SA victims experienced significantly more somatic symptoms than individuals not exposed to SA. Adjusting for physical and emotional abuse did not change the observed associations. Our results suggest a large impact of SA on the overall somatic and mental health of SA victims. Due to the cross-sectional study design, further studies are required.

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