Can dogs help survivors of sexual assault?

Service dogs are one way for victims of sexual assault or combat to cope with the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, 30 percent of sexual assault survivors suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an illness that is often associated with veterans.

Since veterans with PTSD benefit from their service dogs, researchers believe service dogs can help sexual assault survivors too.

A story in The Atlantic reports, “Experts say that service dogs could be beneficial for sexual-assault victims as well, and may even be uniquely suited to help them overcome their issues with trust and relationships.”

Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, chief clinical officer for Washington, D.C.’s Department of Mental Health and a retired U.S. Army psychiatrist, tells The Atlantic, “What there really desperately needs to be is a good study that looks at the effects of service dogs. If the dog considerably improves quality of life, which is what I’ve seen, it’s almost indescribable how much it’s worth for that person.”

Capt. Robert Koffman, a Navy psychiatrist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a medical-research institution in the Department of Defense agrees with Ritchie. “Clearly there are a lot of people benefiting psychiatrically from dogs,” he said. “We just need to understand why,” says.

While the results for veterans with service dogs continue to be positive, medical doctors believe more research needs to be done for veterans and others with PTSD.

Part of the problem is the cost to raise and train a service dog. Costs easily run between $20,000 and $40,000. Some nonprofits that train service dogs for veterans are turning to animal shelters to keep costs down and to save two lives — the life of the person with PTSD and the dog at the animal shelter.

The Atlantic interviewed a young survivor who is currently training her own “service” dog. She tells the publication, “Anyone who has ever had a dog and had a rough week knows that having to walk your dog and get your shoes on and go outside makes a huge difference.”

The survivor said she is benefiting greatly from her dog named Hera.

Sources: The Atlantic, Ecosalon