FRIDAY, May 11 (HealthDay News) -- Women who've witnessed or been the victims of violence may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, according to new research.
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The study included 481 women being treated at a sexually transmitted disease clinic who were assessed for a history of violence and current sexual risk-taking behaviors, such as having a high number of partners or having unprotected sex.
The researchers categorized the women as those having low exposure to violence (39 percent), those who were mainly exposed to community violence (20 percent), those who experienced childhood maltreatment (23 percent), and those who were victims of multiple forms of violence (18 percent).
Women who were exposed to community violence and those who suffered multiple forms of violence had the highest levels of risky sexual behavior, said the researchers at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.
"Sadly, our results show that many women must cope with multiple forms of violence, and that some combinations of violent experiences put women at risk for HIV, other STDs or unplanned pregnancy -- not to mention the risks from the violence itself," lead author Jennifer Walsh said in a hospital news release.
The findings provide new insight into the link between exposure to violence and risky sexual behavior, especially among low-income, urban women who may experience high rates of violence, the researchers said.
"Given the ties between multiple violent experiences and sexual risk-taking, clinicians working with women who experience violence or who are at risk for HIV/STDs may need to consider the overlap between the two in order to impact sexual health consequences," Walsh said.
"The clustering of different types of violence suggests clinicians who work with women who have experienced one type of violence should inquire about other types of violence in order to get a complete picture," she added.
The study recently appeared in the journal Psychology of Violence.
While the researchers uncovered an association between violent experiences and sexual risk behavior, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Lifespan Health System, news release, May 8, 2012