Sexual Health After Violence: Encouraging Healthier Relationships

Lauren Farabough

WOMEN WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED emotional abuse, physical violence or sexual violence are more likely to participate in sexual and drug use behaviors that increase their risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection, research shows.

While there are effective therapies to help survivors cope with abusive experiences, little has been done to address their sexual risk behavior and help them have healthier sexual relationships in the future.

Brooke EE Montgomery, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Public Health, is recruiting women for a pilot study aiming to do just that.

“I truly have a heart for these women and helping them get the help they deserve,” Montgomery said.

She decided to pursue the study after working on a project to help reduce sexual risk and hearing women talk about their experiences with physical and sexual violence. She heard their frustrations

and struggles to have healthy sexual relationships after surviving traumatic and violent life experiences.

Funded by the UAMS Translational Research Institute, this study will include 30 to 50 women ages 18 to 64 who survived sexual, physical, and/ or emotional abuse.

The women will complete eight, two-hour weekly sessions in which they will learn how to have healthier sexual relationships and address their thoughts and opinions toward men, sex, and relationships. Sessions will include exercises, demonstrations, and various activities with the goal of empowering these women to reduce unsafe sexual practices.

“Mental health is a huge part of these women’s daily struggles, but this is not a therapeutic intervention,” Montgomery said. “There are several great resources for therapy and counseling. This program is designed to address the unique sexual health needs and considerations of women who have survived violence.”