In this article, we define torture and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), look at the prevalence of torture and PTSD in the world today, and identify clinical services we help manage available to victims.
What is Torture?
Torture is the deliberate infliction of pain to extract information
or to punish opponents. Today, torture continues to be used throughout
the world for political purposes. Repressive governments use torture
against individuals, such as political and religious leaders, judges,
journalists, educators and health professionals, as well as whole
communities, in order to terrorize and control them.
Physical torture may include such atrocities as severe beatings
to head and genitals, burning of the skin with cigarettes and torches,
suspension by arms or legs, near suffocation, electric shocks, multiple
rapes and other sexual violations.
Psychological torture may include prolonged isolation, seeing or
hearing others tortured, sexual humiliation, confinement in small
places or crowded cells, and mock executions. The torturer ultimately
attempts to break the will and spirit of individuals by forcing them
to betray their beliefs, their principles and themselves.
How Prevalent is Torture?
Torture is a worldwide, man-made epidemic. Human rights organizations
report that over 120 countries in the world today routinely use torture
to control their citizens. Among the refugees from these countries
in the Bay Area, it is estimated that 5 to 35% of them have been tortured,
and up to 90% have witnessed torture or seen its effect upon others.
Cambodian, Iraqi and Bosnian refugees report even higher torture statistics.
What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
Torture survivors often experience ‘post-traumatic stress disorder,’
the same disorder suffered by many Vietnam veterans as well as victims
of rape and child abuse. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares,
insomnia, paranoid fears, detachment, withdrawal, shame about having
"confessed" under torture, or guilt about having survived
when others did not. Such symptoms can seriously hamper the survivor's
ability to resume a normal, productive life. Family members of survivors
can also be scarred by the trauma of their loved one's torture experiences.
What Clinical Services are Available?
Since 1990, Survivors International has provided treatment to over
1200 survivors from over 73 countries, treating an average of 25 to
35 patients a week. The range of services offered to survivors of
torture include the following:
term and ongoing individual and group psychotherapy with specialized
psychologists and other mental health professionals throughout the Bay
Forensic psychological and medical evaluations that provide the necessary "evidence" for political asylum cases.
Psychiatric medications management and counseling.
Medical consultation and medical care.
Ongoing case management and social service support -- connecting
clients with local agencies providing assistance for food, shelter, employment and community.