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The effects of torture-related stressors on long-term complex post-traumatic symptoms in South Korean torture survivors


  • Hyunjung Choi has designed the study, analysed the data and drafted the article. Hoon-Jin Lee has interpreted the results and revised the article critically. Hwa-Young Lee was in charge of the large survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, contacting participants and collecting data. This study was supported by the NHRCK (11-1620000-000322-01).


This study explored whether perceived distress from specific stressors during and after torture explain long-term complex post-traumatic symptoms of South Korean torture survivors. We conducted a cross-sectional survey of survivors who had been tortured by the homeland regime from the 1970s to the 2000s. Data from 206 survivors were gathered by key informants using target sampling and snowballing techniques. Project staff designed scales to encompass the specific types of stressors related to torture techniques used in Korea. Frequencies and distress ratings of exposure to torture, post-torture psychosocial stressors and physical damage related to torture were gathered. Psychological symptoms were assessed by the Impact of Event Scale-Revised-Korean version and subscales of the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised-Korean version. Perceived distress from torture stressors was mainly divided into factors representing physical, psychological and deprivation torture by adapting a principal axis factor analysis. Hierarchical regression analyses showed that distress from psychological torture explained post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that distress from deprivation explained PTSD and anxiety after controlling for demographic variables, psychological preparedness, time span since torture and distress from trauma other than torture. Among post-torture stressors, distress from physical damage related to torture and social exclusion were strong indicators of complex symptoms.