When Rebecca Thurston read the accounts of 150 women and girls sexually abused by a Michigan athletic doctor, one of the first things she worried about was their health — not the psychological effect of the abuse, but the long-term physical toll it could take on their bodies.
An epidemiologist, Thurston has spent the past four years studying women who have suffered sexual abuse and harassment. Over time, she discovered, sexual harassment can work like a poison, stiffening women’s blood vessels, worsening blood flow and harming the inner lining of their hearts.
“People need to understand that trauma is not just something that happens in the mind,” said Thurston, who published her cardiovascular findings this winter in the scientific journal Menopause. “It has real implications on the body.”
After being dismissed for decades, denied funding and greeted with skepticism, researchers studying sexual harassment say their field is undergoing a renaissance — injected with newfound energy and relevance amid the growing #MeToo movement.