Female Dissociative Responding to Extreme Sexual Violence in a Chronic Crisis Setting: The Case of Eastern Congo


Schalinski, Inga, Thomas Elbert, and Maggie Schauer. 2011. “Female Dissociative Responding to Extreme Sexual Violence in a Chronic Crisis Setting: The Case of Eastern Congo.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 24 (2): 235-238.

Authors: Inga Schalinski, Thomas Elbert, Maggie Schauer


This cross-sectional study aimed to examine relationships between the number of traumatizing events, degree of shutdown dissociation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. Fifty-three female survivors of the ongoing war in Congo who sought medical treatment were interviewed. A path-analytic model was created with paths to PTSD via dissociation, and both the number of self-experienced and witnessed traumatizing events. Cumulative exposure and dissociation were associated with increased PTSD severity. Posttraumatic stress disorder and witnessing predicted depression when depression was modeled as a consequence of PTSD. Moreover, PTSD mediated the correlation between dissociation and depression. The findings suggest that shutdown dissociation may have value in predicting PTSD, and there is evidence of differential effects of threat to oneself as opposed to witnessing trauma.

Keywords: sexual violence, mental health


"The following self-experienced events  were reported most frequently: sexual assault (96.2%), natural disaster  (62.3%), and abduction (60.4%). The majority witnessed physical assaults (73.6%), 69.8% witnessed armed assault, and 62.3% homicide. On average, the time elapsed since the worst event was 4.5 years (range 0 to 25; SD=4.4). Thirty-seven respondents fulfilled all criteria for presumed PTSD (for diagnosis criteria, see Foa, Riggs, Dancu, & Rothbaum, 1993). Approximately 67% of respondents with and 32% of those without PTSD met the DSM-IV criteria for depression. The reported PTSD severity (M = 21.40, SD = 8.81) and HSCL-depression score (M = 2.51, SD = 0.64; n = 51) were high. On average, respondents reported a mean score of shutdown dissociation of 8.48 (SD = 6.31)." (236)
"However, prior studies did not consider witnessed and self-experienced traumatizing events together in a composite model. Surprisingly, witnessing the trauma of others had no direct effect in our model, but seemed to be associated with PTSD via the number of self-experienced traumatizing events." (238)
"We conclude that present observations emphasize the relevance of shutdown dissociation for predicting PTSD. Moreover, the findings suggest differential effects of threat to oneself as opposed to witnessing trauma." (238)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2011

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