Does Sexual Violence Impact the Brains of Women Victims?

Psychology professor Tracey ShorsA new study led by Tracey Shors, professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, finds that exposure to sexual violence may impact women’s brains by raising their levels of stress hormones. This in turn may hinder their learning ability and reduce maternal behaviors in raising of offspring.

Shors and her colleagues developed the Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR) model to determine how stress associated with sexual aggression affected female rodents. Professor Shors said the females in this study that were exposed to the adult male throughout puberty did not exhibit as much maternal behavior as females that did not have these aggressive social interactions. Her results also showed that fewer newly generated brain cells remained in females that didn’t express as much maternal behavior when compared to females that did learn to care for offspring.

“This study is important because we need to understand how sexual aggression affects all species,” said Dr. Shors. “We also need to know the consequences of this behavior in order for us to determine what we can do to help women learn to recover from sexual aggression and violence.”

“We know very little about the brain mechanisms that account for the increase in depression and mood disorders among women who experience sexual trauma and aggression,” Dr. Shors said. “But with new approaches and attention to this issue, we can find out how the female brain responds to aggression and how to help women learn to recover from sexual violence.”

Professor Shors joined the Rutgers faculty in 1997. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama and holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in physiological psychology from the University of Southern California.

The article, “Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR): A Model of Sexual Trauma that Disrupts Maternal Learning and Plasticity in the Female Brain,” was published on the website of Scientific Reports. It is available here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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