Evaluation, mental health, mental illness, sexual assault, sexual assault medical forensic examination, vulnerabilities


Background: Persons with severe mental illness (MI) are at a high risk of becoming victims of sexual assault (SA). Vulnerability for SA with any type of MI is unknown. This study aimed to identify the prevalence of preexisting MI and other significant factors in patients reporting preexisting MI at the time of their SA medical forensic examinations (SAMFEs).

Method: A retrospective SAMFE chart review of patients ( N = 7,455) from 2010 to 2020 was conducted. Sexual assault nurse examiners completed SAMFEs. Inclusion criteria included (a) aged 14 years and older, (b) completed SAMFE with SA kit evidence collection, and (c) reported to law enforcement (restricted cases not included). Descriptive statistics and chi-square analyses were completed.

Findings: It was found that 46.7% of study participants reported preexisting MI and/or current use of psychotropic medications, more than double the MI prevalence rates in the general population. MI in patients seen for SAMFE was associated with prior history of SA, medical health problems, and physical or mental impairment. In addition, patients with MI reported more violent SAs with increased anogenital and nonanogenital injuries.

Discussion: The high prevalence rate of any MI in patients seen for SAMFE indicates MI in varying severity is a significant vulnerability for SA. The association of preexisting MI with a history of SA, health problems, and physical or mental impairment expands understanding of associated MI factors. These findings support the development of interventions by healthcare providers and stakeholders to address SA vulnerabilities in individuals with MI.

Original Publication Citation

Miles, L., Valentine, J. L., Mabey, L., & Downing, N. R. (2022). Mental illness as a vulnerability for sexual assault: A retrospective study of 7,455 sexual assault forensic medical examinations. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 18(3), 131–138.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Forensic Nursing





University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor

Included in

Nursing Commons