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South African Medical Journal

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Perpetration of gross human rights violations in South Africa: Association with psychiatric disorders

DJ Stein, SL Williams, PB Jackson, S Seedat, L Myer, A Herman, DR Williams

Abstract


Background. A nationally representative study of psychiatric disorders in South Africa provided an opportunity to study the association between perpetration of human rights violations (HRVs) during apartheid and psychiatric disorder. Prior work has suggested an association between perpetration and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but this remains controversial.
Methods. Subjects reported on their perpetration of human rights violations, purposeful injury, accidental injury and domestic violence. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition) disorders were assessed with Version 3.0 of the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI 3.0). Socio-demographic characteristics of these groups were calculated. Odds ratios for the association between the major categories of psychiatric disorders and perpetration
were assessed.
Results. HRV perpetrators were more likely to be male, black and more educated, while perpetrators of domestic violence ( DV) were more likely to be female, older, married, less educated and with lower income. HRV perpetration was associated with lifetime and 12-month anxiety and substance use disorders, particularly PTSD. Purposeful and
DV perpetration were associated with lifetime and 12-month history of all categories of disorders, whereas accidental perpetration was associated most strongly with mood disorders.
Conclusion. Socio-demographic profiles of perpetrators of HRV and DV in South Africa differ. While the causal relationship between perpetration and psychiatric disorders deserves further study, it is possible that some HRV and DV perpetrators were themselves once victims. The association between accidental perpetration and mood disorder also
deserves furher attention.



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