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Abstract

There is a pervasive and comprehensive history of sexism in the pursuit of scientific truth, extending back beyond the days of “hysteria” and continuing still. Herein, we discuss a disparity in scientific research on a disorder thought to affect less than 8% of the adult population in the USA with the number of women diagnosed with the disorder estimated to be two to three times higher than that of men. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more likely to be experienced by women, we find that the overwhelming majority of published scientific literature on PTSD involves male combat veterans. For example, since March 2019, according to a widely used medical research search engine, specifically the electronic database PubMed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/), over 1,100 articles can be found with the keywords, “veteran and PTSD” while using the keywords, “sexual assault and PTSD” yields a little over 100 total articles. While not all victims of sexual assault are female and not all combat veterans are male, the majority sex in each category is such that much of the research on “veteran” was specifically carried out with male veterans and much of the work on “sexual abuse” was carried out exclusively with females. This creates a perception that both overinflates the incidence of PTSD experienced by male combat veterans and underemphasizes the experience of PTSD in female victims of sexual assault. Differences in symptoms of PTSD do vary by war and what little research exists on PTSD after sexual assault suggests that it is likely that symptoms as well as associated comorbidities will vary depending on the cause, type, number, and age at first trauma, among other factors. This study focuses on the specific comorbidities of pain, addiction, and immune function in those who experience PTSD following war-based or sexually-based traumas. It is our hope that in reviewing the currently available research, we spotlight the need for research focused on PTSD experienced after sexual assault. Doing so has the potential to lead to better and more tailored treatments for PTSD, thus enriching outcomes for all sufferers of PTSD.

Note on the Author

Jessica Anzalone received her undergraduate degree from Bridgewater State University in May 2019 with Honors, earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and with minors in Psychology and Biochemistry. Ms. Anzalone’s interdisciplinary Honors Thesis on sex differences in PTSD served as the foundation from which this manuscript was initiated. Ms. Anzalone is now focused on parenting her young children and she hopes to continue to work toward a better understanding of PTSD in the future. ; Sharon Ramos-Goyette, Ph.D. is currently a visiting lecturer at Bridgewater State University. She received a B.S in both Biology and Psychology from Boston College and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Tufts University. This was followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Her current interests involve the intersection of biology and culture, particularly the ways in which our inherited culture and institutions constructed and continue to influence biological research, understanding, and societal norms. ; Marissa Morganelli received a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Sciences & Disorders and Psychology from Bridgewater State University. Her professional experiences include both clinical and research-based work in the biological and psychological sciences. Ms. Morganelli is currently pursuing secondary education licensure with the goal of teaching high school biology. She hopes to one day develop equitable, social justice-minded curriculum in anatomy & physiology, neuroscience, psychology, and other biomedical and social sciences.; Dr. Merideth Krevosky received her Bachelors’ Degree in Biology from Saint Mary’s College and Doctorate from Loyola University Chicago. After a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Northwestern University, she joined the Department of Biological Sciences at Bridgewater State University in 2002. Her teaching responsibilities include Anatomy and Physiology and Cancer Biology, while her research focuses on programmed cell death, or apoptosis, in cancer. Her recent work focuses on chemoresistance in cancers impacting women, including breast and ovarian cancer.

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