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Sexual violence and pregnancy-related physical symptoms

Mirjam Lukasse12*, Lena Henriksen3, Siri Vangen4 and Berit Schei15

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and General Practice at the Faculty of Medicine, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Håkon Jarls gate 11, N-7489, Trondheim, Norway

2 Department of Health, Nutrition and Management, Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Postboks 364 Alnabru, N-0614, Oslo, Norway

3 Section of Obstetrics at the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oslo University Hospital, Postboks 4950 Nydalen, N-0424, Oslo, Norway

4 National Resource Centre for Women’s Health at the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oslo University Hospital, Postboks 4950 Nydalen, N-0424, Oslo, Norway

5 Department of Gynecology at the Women’s Clinic, St. Olavs Hospital,Trondheim University Hospital, Postbox 3250, Sluppen, N-7006, Trondheim, Norway

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-83

Published: 11 August 2012



Few studies have investigated the impact of sexual violence on health during pregnancy. We examined the association between sexual violence and the reporting of physical symptoms during pregnancy.


A population-based national cohort study conducted by The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study (MoBa) collected data from pregnant women through postal questionnaires at 17 and 32 weeks gestation. Three levels of sexual violence were measured: 1) mild (pressured into sexual relations), 2) moderate (forced with violence into sexual relation) and 3) severe (rape). Differences between women reporting and not reporting sexual violence were assessed using Pearson’s X2 test and multiple logistic regression analyses.


Of 78 660 women, 12.0% (9 444) reported mild, 2.8% (2 219) moderate and 3.6% (2 805) severe sexual violence. Sexual violence was significantly associated with increased reporting of pregnancy-related physical symptoms, both measured in number of symptoms and duration/degree of suffering. Compared to women not reporting sexual violence, the probability of suffering from ≥8 pregnancy-related symptoms estimated by Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) was 1.49 (1.41–1.58) for mild sexual violence, 1.66(1.50–1.84) for moderate and 1.78 (1.62–1.95) for severe. Severe sexual violence both previously and recently had the strongest association with suffering from ≥8 pregnancy-related symptoms, AOR 6.70 (2.34–19.14).


A history of sexual violence is associated with increased reporting of pregnancy-related physical symptoms. Clinicians should consider the possible role of a history of sexual violence when treating women who suffer extensively from pregnancy-related symptoms.

Sexual violence; Rape; Pregnancy; Physical complaints