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Once a year is not enough!

2016 June 26
by Ben Achtenberg

Honoring torture survivors
and those who stand with them…

In 1987 the United Nations recognized this day, June 26th, as an International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. We’re a year short of the 30th anniversary of that declaration and, as a nation, we have made substantial advances toward the goal the day represents.

One of those is verSylvie-2bal: we try to think and speak about people who have been tortured as survivors, not victims, emphasizing their resilience, and their futures, not just their pasts. That’s what I experienced myself while interviewing torture survivors and the people who work with them for my documentary, REFUGE: Caring for Survivors of Torture.

The men, women, and children who have been able to make it to the United States are remarkable, and we are lucky to have them as new citizens. But they are a tiny fraction of the millions of people throughout the world who are subjected to torture and violence every day, most of whom don’t have the personal or financial resources to escape.

There are a number of terrific organizations around the U.S. working directly with torture survivors, but it’s a regrettably small number – fewer than 40 the last time I checked – and most struggle for the finances to keep going. I’ve listed below the contact information for five of those that I worked with when making REFUGE. The sixth lost its local government funding and folded not long after we filmed there.

Al&KittySHA longer list is available on the Refuge Media Project website. All of these groups could use your support. (Note: it’s been a while since I’ve been able to update this list, so please let me know if you spot any errors.)

This more comprehensive list from the Survivors of Torture center at New York’s Bellview Hospital lists 34, but I believe that at least two of these are no longer functioning.

Organizations Featured in the Documentary

  • Asylum Network, Physicians for Human Rights Cambridge, Massachusetts. PHR’s Asylum Network mobilizes physicians and mental health professionals to conduct evaluations of asylum seekers in order to document the forensic evidence of torture and abuse.
  • Atlanta Asylum Network, Institute of Human Rights Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. A student-founded organization of health professionals and student case managers who volunteer their time to assist survivors of torture seeking asylum in the United States.
  • Center for Victims of Torture Minneapolis, Minnesota. CVT works to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities, and offers training to health care providers, educators and others. The Center also advocates for the investigation and abolition of torture worldwide.
  • Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma Cambridge, Massachusetts. HPRT is a multi-disciplinary program that has been pioneering the health and mental health care of traumatized refugees and civilians in areas of conflict and natural disasters for over two decades.
  • Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International Washington, DC. TASSC is a network of torture survivors who advocate and lobby to end torture and demand government accountability in the United States and abroad.

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