Background: Wartime rape is an atrocity with long-lasting impacts not only on victims but whole societies. In this brief report, we present data on experience and witness of sexual violence during World War II (WWII) and subsequent time of occupation and on indicators of mental health in a sample of elderly Austrians.
Methods: Interviews of 298 elderly Austrians from a larger epidemiological study on WWII traumatization were analyzed for the impact of experience and witness of sexual violence during the wartime committed by occupational forces. Interviews comprised a biographical/historical section and psychological measures (BSI, TLEQ, PCL–C). Participants were recruited in all nine provinces of Austria with respect to former zones of occupation (Western Allied/Soviet).
Results: Twelve persons reported direct experience of sexual violence, 33 persons witnessed such atrocities. One third of the victims and 18.2% of the witnesses reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD full/subthreshold). Sexual violence occurred more often in the former Soviet zone. Victims and witnesses displayed higher odds of post-traumatic symptoms and symptoms of depression and phobic fear than non-victims. Furthermore, witnesses displayed higher levels of aggression compared to victims and non-witnesses.
Conclusions: Our results corroborate previous findings that wartime rape has long-lasting effects over decades on current mental health and post-traumatic distress in victims and witnesses. We recommend integration of psychotraumatological knowledge on consequences of sexual violence on mental health into geriatric care and the education of dedicated personnel.