War Victims and the Traumatic Consequences of Torture

Torture is about the targeted infliction of psychological or physical suffering, for example in the form of pain, fear or humiliation. The aim of torture is usually to blackmail statements, to humiliate the victim or to break their will. In many cases, trauma can clearly be traced back to experiences of torture, which is strategically and systematically applied in tyranny, conflicts and wars.

What influence can torture have on the psyche?

The effects of torture are many. In addition to long-term or chronic damage to health that tortured people can suffer, the psychological effects of torture play a major role. Since torture is often systematic and takes place over a long period of time or repeatedly, it is particularly common for victims of torture to experience complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorders.

In addition, various secondary disorders can occur. These include self-image disorders, dissociative identity disorders, and repeated breakups. According to studies, around 30% of people who have been victims of torture and displacement suffer from depression.

The score for post-traumatic stress disorder is similar. In this case, those affected suffer from typical trauma symptoms such as a lack of affect regulation and impulse control as well as depressive moods with sometimes severe self-harm.

Sexual violence in particular plays a major role in torture. Increasingly, but by no means exclusively, women fall victim to this. Unwanted pregnancies following torture rape are just one of the serious consequences this type of torture can have.

War victims in Germany

The first research results on trauma in Germany come from the work with war veterans of the First World War, who at the time were known as “tremors” and, unfortunately, were often laughed at. During the Second World War, not only soldiers but people from all walks of life were traumatized by the war. Many of us grew up with parents or grandparents who told horrific stories from our war experiences. Unfortunately, many trauma that have not yet been treated date from this time.

Where wars take place, those involved still suffer trauma today. In Germany, some of the victims are Bundeswehr soldiers, but above all people with a refugee background, be it from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. In addition to their trauma, these people, who have often experienced terrible things, also have to deal with all the challenges that come with living in a new country and in an unfamiliar society.

While Bundeswehr employees in war situations are usually accompanied by psychological specialists as standard, people with a refugee background often find it difficult to get urgently needed support in dealing with their trauma. In addition to the language barrier, fear of contact with therapists and cultural aspects are still real obstacles when accessing therapy.


Knaevelsrud: Post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of torture and war. (2012).

Wenk-Ansohn, Stammel and Böttche: victims of torture and traumatized refugees . (2019).