Sexual assault by an intimate partner was associated with a similar level of psychological distress and a greater likelihood of extragenital traumatic injuries, compared with sexual assaults by a stranger or an acquaintance.

Dr. Patrick Chariot of the department of forensic medicine at Hôpital Jean-Verdier in Bondy, France, and his colleagues conducted an observational and prospective study to compare the psychological and physical symptoms of women assaulted by intimate partners with the symptoms of women who were assaulted by an acquaintance or unknown person.

Participants included girls and women aged 15 years or older who were referred to a sexual assault center and received examination. Data was grouped according to the woman’s reported relationship to their assailant as a current or former intimate partner, stranger, or acquaintance ( Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Feb;127:516–26 ).

A total of 767 patients were included in the study. Assault by an intimate partner was reported by 263 women, assault by an acquaintance by 229 women, and assault by a stranger by 275 women. A 1-month follow-up examination was performed in 38% of participants.

Nearly half of the study participants reported a previous physical or sexual assault. A history of previous assault was more often reported by women in the intimate partner group (71%), compared with those in the acquaintance group (49%) and those in the stranger group (28%).

Extragenital trauma was more common in women assaulted by intimate partners (52% versus 33% and 43%, in acquaintance and strangers, respectively).

The most common psychological symptoms reported at the time of examination included anxiety, fear, shame, and sadness with reports of fear being more common in those with an intimate partner assault (46% versus 30% and 25%). The most common symptoms reported at follow-up included sleep disorders, depression, fear, intrusive thoughts, social withdrawal, shame, and anxiety.

Most of the study participants had scores suggestive of a minor psychiatric disorder (89%) or post-traumatic stress disorder (79%), with similar results in all groups, according to the researchers.

“This study demonstrates that extragenital physical assaults coincident with the sexual assault are more commonly perpetrated by intimate assailants than either strangers or acquaintances,” the researchers wrote. “Additionally, there is no difference in the victim’s psychologic symptoms nor in the reaction to reports of the assault to family and friends.”

The researchers reported having no financial disclosures.