Screening for Sexual Assault in a Primary Care Setting

Mary E. Muscari, PhD


March 04, 2014

In This Article

The term "sexual assault" includes a wide range of victimizations such as rape, attempted rape, fondling, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and forced prostitution. Sexual assault is a global problem that can result in considerable physical and psychological consequences for its victims. In the United States, there are approximately 237,868 victims of sexual assault each year, which translates into 1 American being sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. Eighty percent of sexual assault victims are under age 30 years, and about two thirds of all sexual assault victims know their assailants.[1]

Sexual assault victims are at increased risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health problems such as post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety; child and adolescent victims of sexual abuse are also at increased risk for sexual victimization in adulthood.[2]

The US Preventive Services Task Force report, Screening for Family and Intimate Partner Violence, published in 2004,[3] concluded that there was insufficient evidence to recommend for or against clinicians screening patients for family and intimate partner violence, both of which can include sexual assault. By contrast, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Nurses Association all recommend that clinicians screen female patients for sexual violence,[4] and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that healthcare providers routinely screen patients for sexual assault.[5]

In this article, we will review key populations that may be most vulnerable and/or the least likely to report sexual assault and consider how screening for evidence of sexual violence can aid clinicians in the accurate diagnosis, treatment, and referral of victims of sexual assault.


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