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Pioneering project on pain and posttraumatic stress symptoms following sexual assault initiated

Researchers from the Department of Psychology, in collaboration with Odense University Hospital and Lillebaelt Hospital, have received a grant of two million Danish kroner from the the Council of the Danish Victims Fund to conduct an ambitious three-year research project.

By Marianne Lie Becker, , 12/7/2023

Chronic pain represents a significant health issue, often arising after a traumatic experience and particularly exacerbating following sexual assaults. Over the past few decades, extensive research has been conducted on the prevention and treatment of chronic pain. This research has revealed a significant overlap between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.

- With this grant, we have the opportunity to explore the link between traumatic experiences, pain, and post-traumatic reactions after sexual assaults. This research includes a particular focus on more complex post-traumatic reactions. We hope that our findings will contribute to identifying ways to better predict and treat chronic pain in those who have experienced sexual assault, says Maj Hansen, Associate professor at the Department of Psychology.

She, along with Tonny Elmose Andersen and Nina Beck Hansen from the Department of Psychology, Henrik Bjarke Vægter from the Southern Pain Center at OUH and Department of Clinical Research, and the Centers for Rape Victims at OUH and Lillebaelt Hospital, are behind the project. The project team consists of a strong combination of leading researchers in trauma, sexual violence, and pain research, deeply rooted in practical applications through close collaboration with OUH and Lillebaelt Hospital.

Focus and objectives of the study

The purpose of the upcoming three-year project is threefold.

- First and foremost, we will systematically map the existing knowledge about the relationship between pain, traumatic experiences, and post-traumatic reactions through an extensive literature review, Nina Beck Hansen explains.

Subsequently, the researchers will investigate differences in pain profiles and the interaction between pain, complex post-traumatic reactions, and traumatic experiences among individuals exposed to sexual assaults compared to chronic pain patients. This will be carried out through a comprehensive questionnaire survey.

- Finally, we will explore pain sensibilization in individuals who have been exposed to sexual assaults and analyze the presence of post-traumatic reactions. We will compare this with a control group that has not experienced sexual assaults through an experimental investigation, Nina Beck Hansen adds.

Creating Future Solutions

The research group aims not only to comprehend the mechanisms underlying pain after sexual assaults but also to develop screening tools and effective treatment methods aimed at preventing the development of pain.

- The coexistence of PTSD and pain can result in more severe symptoms, functional impairment, and a poorer prognosis. Understanding the pain mechanisms and the complex reactions that occur after traumatic events such as sexual assaults is therefore crucial in developing effective assessment and treatment methods. Our project is expected to achieve this by placing increased emphasis on pain in sexually assaulted individuals and simultaneously highlighting the significance of traumatic experiences in chronic pain patients, Maj Hansen states.

The project lasts three years, and with funding from the Council of the Danish Victims Fund, the research group will be enhanced by the recruitment of a Ph.D. student.

Meet the researcher

Maj Hansen is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology and the research unit ThRIVE at the University of Southern Denmark.


Meet the researcher

Nina Beck Hansen is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology, the research unit ThRIVE and The National Center of Psychotraumatology at the University of Southern Denmark.


Meet the researcher

Tonny Elmose Andersen is professor at Department og Psychology and the reserch unit InCoRE at the University of Southern Denmark.


Meet the researcher

Henrik Bjarke Vægter is professor at Department of Clinical Research, Odense University Hospital and the Research unit of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care at the University of Southern Denmark.


Editing was completed: 07.12.2023