top of page
  • Writer's pictureInstitute Staff

Afraid to Perform CPR on Women? You’re Not Alone.

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Heart disease “is the leading killer of U.S. women and men alike.” Dr. Sarah Perman is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She noted, “CPR can be lifesaving, regardless of sex.”

Dr. Perman recently led a survey about performing CPR on women vs. men. The results were stunning. They showed “women are less likely than men to receive bystander CPR if they go into cardiac arrest in a public place.”

What is Cardiac Arrest?

“Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. It cannot pump blood and oxygen to the body.” Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. Heart attacks are caused by “an artery blockage that diminishes blood flow to the heart.”

  • More than 356,000 people suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital each year. Only about 11% survive.

  • Without emergency treatment, cardiac arrest is fatal in minutes.

  • Performing CPR can double or triple survival rates.

  • If a bystander performs CPR, it will keep the victim’s blood circulating. This increases the chances of survival until paramedics arrive.

  • Men and women benefit equally from CPR chest compressions.

Why Bystanders are Afraid To Perform CPR On Women

Bystanders are afraid of hurting women. They also worry about accusations of sexual assault. The research conducted wasn’t limited to real-world settings. A study was performed using a virtual reality environment. Perman also conducted another study with 54 adults. Many held erroneous information about performing CPR on female victims. Respondents said:

  • Participants were less likely to perform CPR when the virtual victim was female versus male.

  • People performed CPR on 65% of male victims, but only 54% of female victims.

  • Respondents worried about hurting a woman while performing CPR chest compressions.

  • Respondents worried about sexual assault allegations.

  • Some respondents believed a woman’s breasts would get in the way of CPR.

  • Many respondents also believed that women were less likely to have heart problems than men.

Dr. Perman says, “Providing this lifesaving procedure for women should be normalized, and not sexualized.”

The Importance of Educating the Public About CPR

Dr. Aaron Donoghue is part of the American Heart Association and the University of Pennsylvania. He says, “as for fears of being accused of sexual assault, chest compressions are performed on the breastbone (also called the sternum, it’s the long flat bone in the center of the chest), not the breasts.”

Donoghue says:

  • It would be terrible for fear to deter a would-be rescuer from performing CPR.

  • Doing nothing is always worse than doing something.

  • It’s hard to know whether a participant would respond the same in the real world vs. the controlled study.

The best way to combat these fears is through education. People should become knowledgeable about cardiac arrest and CPR. The best place to start is the AHA website.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness emphasizes the importance of planning and preparation. We will be offering CPR training during our next Safety Summit. To book your own Safety Summit, contact us today!




Educating yourself is the best method to quordle deal with these anxieties. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and cardiac arrest should be taught to the public. An excellent place to begin is the AHA's online resource center.

bottom of page