Group Education Sessions for Women Veterans Who Experienced Sexual Violence: Qualitative Findings

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Abstract

Introduction: The impact of sexual violence (SV) on mental health, self-care, and interpersonal relationships is profound and poses special challenges to health care delivery. Reproductive health care merits special attention because the care required may be linked to reminders of past abuse. We explored facilitators and barriers affecting the use of reproductive health services among women veterans with a history of SV. Method: Between June and September 2015, we conducted 2 focus groups and 3 general education sessions with 27 female veterans with a history of SV at 1 medical center. We analyzed transcripts according to applied thematic analysis and used Nvivo software for data management and retrieval. Results: Three main themes emerged from the focus groups and education sessions. Participants: (a) expressed a desire for greater agency in relation to the control they have over their bodies and medical care; (b) described how posttraumatic stress symptoms are retriggered during medical care; and (c) expressed needs for additional education, peer and provider support within the medical system. Discussion: For women with a history of SV, multiple individual and systemic barriers complicate how they utilize reproductive health services. Group education sessions were an effective mode of support, information and connection to other women within the Veterans Health Administration.

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