A new study has said that cruel and inhuman treatment causes more mental damage than physical torture.
For the study, Dr Metin Basoglu, Head of Section of Trauma Studies at King's College London and the Istanbul Centre for Behaviour Research and Therapy examined the psychological impact of war captivity, 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment' (CIDT) and physical torture.
Basoglu looked at the different risk factors associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in former detainees, reporting that captivity experience in a war setting was associated with 2.8 times greater risk of PTSD in comparison to being detained by state authorities in someone's own country, possibly due to the greater perceived threat to life in a war setting.
Additionally, being held captive by an enemy was a stronger risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the actual experience of torture itself. PTSD was also associated with CIDT and sexual abuse but not with physical torture.
Basoglu examined the psychological impact of the captivity experience in 432 individuals who were held captive and tortured in two different contexts.
The group included 230 survivors in former Yugoslavia countries who were tortured during the war and 202 survivors who were detained and tortured for political and other reasons after the military coup d'état in Turkey in the early 1980s.
The survivors reported an average of 21 stressor events during detention or captivity. Survivors who rated CIDT events (deprivation of food, water, sleep, urination/defecation, and medical care, forced stress positions, isolation, fear-inducing psychological manipulations, humiliating treatment, exposure to hot/cold temperatures and exposure to extreme sensory discomfort) as more distressing were also likely to report their overall torture experience as more stressful.
Perceived severity of physical torture (e.g. electrical torture, hanging by the hands, beating the soles of the feet, genital/anal torture and stretching of extremities) on the other hand, was not associated with perceived severity of overall torture experience.
Thus, it was CIDT and not physical torture that determined perception of overall torture experience as more distressing.
This study has been published on line in the April issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.