Top FAQ:

(compiled by California Consortium of Torture Treatment Centers)

(1) What do you mean by “torture survivors?”

Our clients are survivors of international, politically-motivated torture. They endured torture in their home countries, fled to the United States and now live in California.

(2) How many such torture survivors are there?

500,000 in the United States and 100,000 in California alone.

Center for Victims of Torture estimates that there are 500,000 torture survivors living in the United States. Studies estimate the incidence of torture ranges from 5-35% among refugees.  By conservative estimates (5%), about 100,000 torture survivors live in California today. 

(3) What is the meaning of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture?

On June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention Against Torture entered into force. On the anniversary of that date each year, we mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It is a moment to celebrate the resiliency of survivors, mourn the cruel impact of torture and renew the commitment to the abolition of torture worldwide.

(4) What does Senate Joint Resolution 6 do?

SJR 6 raises awareness about the presence and needs of torture survivors in California. It also celebrates the existence of our state’s torture treatment centers. SJR 6 officially declares June 26th a Day in Support of Victims of Torture in California. Finally, SJR 6 calls on the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to distribute Torture Victims Relief Act funds in a way that adequately accounts for California’s leading role as a resettlement destination for torture survivors.

(5) How is the current distribution of TVRA funds inadequate?

California’s refugee resettlement role is the largest in the nation. Since 1975, we have resettled 25% of all refugees. Our percentage has diminished somewhat in recent years, but we remain the national leader. More importantly, California resettled 37% of all affirmative asylees last year and 28% of all asylees in the most recent year for which the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has published statistics. Yet California currently receives only 16% of all TVRA funding.

Other FAQ:

I) Torture

1)    How do you define torture?

Torture can be physical, psychological, or sexual in nature. It is a deliberate and systematic infliction of severe pain or suffering by a public official, other persons acting in an official capacity (e.g. police, military, or security forces) or by parties a government is unwilling or unable to control (e.g. paramilitary organization or guerrilla armies).

2)    Is torture legal?

No. Torture is illegal under both international and U.S. law. More than 140 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

3)    How widespread is government-sponsored torture?

Amnesty International has documented torture in more than 150 countries, including the United States. In more than 70 countries, it is widespread and systematic.

4)    Why are people tortured?

Often, individuals are tortured because of their identity (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) or because of political affiliation, religion or activities to promote equal rights, labor rights and other causes. Students, politicians, and prisoners are also targets, and people may be tortured at random if the government or opposition group is trying to create a climate of fear in a population.

5)    What are the most common forms of physical torture?

Beating, kicking, electric shocks, deprivation of food and water, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape and sexual assault.

6)    What are the most common forms of psychological torture?

Isolation, threats to self or to family and associates, humiliation, mock executions, mock amputations, and witnessing the torture of others.

II) Survivors of Torture

1)    How many torture survivors live in the United States?

The U.S. government estimates that 500,000 survivors live in the United States.

2)    How many torture survivors live in California?

The exact number is impossible to know. However, based on surveys the International Red Cross believes that 20% of all refugees are torture survivors. The California Refugee Programs Bureau records over 600,000 refugees living in California. Accordingly, the California Consortium of Torture Treatment Centers conservatively estimates that there are 100,000 survivors of torture living in California today.

Torture survivors are our neighbors, coworkers, friends and peers. California is home to the largest number of refugees and immigrants in the United States. Effects of torture spread to future generations. Children and grandchildren of torture survivors face increased risks of school failure, family violence, learning problems, and mental health disorders.

3)    Are there any famous torture survivors?

Famous survivors include Nelson Mandela, Elie Weisel, Senator John McCain, Gandhi, Dilma Rousseff (current President of Brazil), Michelle Bachelet (former President of Chile), Hannah Senesh (poet), and Wangari Muta Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize winner).

4)    Why should communities care about helping survivors of torture?

Torture survivors are talented, trained and productive people who have resources and experiences to offer our communities. Survivors are beacons of democracy; they reflect the values of America’s founders. Many survivors were involved in such fields as medicine, law, business and government. They have been damaged by torture, but with treatment they can begin to rebuild their lives and careers in California.

III) Refugees and Asylum Seekers

1)    How do refugees get here?

Agencies such as the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities, World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) help resettle refugees. For most refugees, the International Organization for Migration arranges travel to the United States. Refugees are given a three-year travel loan which they are expected to repay through their resettlement agency.

2)    What is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who has left his or her country because of a well-founded fear of persecution or death based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. An individual gains the legal status of “refugee” outside the United States, usually in camps that are set up in countries neighboring the country of turmoil.

3)    How many refugees are there in the world and where do they come from?

The UNHCR estimates that there are 8.4 million refugees in the world. Major populations come from Afghanistan, Sudan, Burundi, DR Congo, Somalia, Vietnam, Palestine and Iraq.

4)    Is there a limit to how many refugees can enter the United States per year?

Each year, the president sets a target for refugee admissions. For 2007, the target is 70,000 refugees. While it usually falls short of this target, the United States. resettles more refugees than any other nation.

5)    What is an asylum-seeker?

An asylum-seeker is also a person fleeing persecution, but he or she applies for protection once inside the United States. Individuals can be granted asylum if they can prove a well-founded fear of persecution. After long and difficult journeys from their homes, they arrive at ports of entry like San Francisco via SFO or San Diego via the Mexico border.

With little or no documentation, some of these individuals are immediately deported in a procedure known as expedited removal. Others proceed through a legal process that can take months or years. Many are held in prison during this time. Throughout this process, they are not eligible for government benefits of any kind, and are usually not able to work.

6)    Who receives asylum in the United States?

Asylum may be granted after a hearing before an immigration judge or an interview by an officer from the Department of Homeland Security. If the individual can prove a fear of persecution, he or she can be granted asylum.

7)    Is there a limit to how many asylum seekers can be granted each year?

There are no limits to the number of individuals who may be granted asylum, but about 69% of applicants are denied, according to a recent report from TRAC, a data research organization associated with Syracuse University. Anyone who poses a threat to national security is barred from receiving asylum, as well as anyone who has committed acts of terrorism, human rights abuses, or other serious crimes.

8)    What happens after they are granted?

After being granted asylum, an asylum-seeker becomes an asylee. An asylee can apply to work in the United States, receive health insurance and other benefits for a limited time, and may petition to bring a spouse and/or children to the United States. After one year the asylee and his or her family can apply to become lawful permanent residents, but asylees sometimes face significant delays with this process—up to several years.

9)    Are all refugees and asylum-seekers torture survivors?

No, one does not have to be tortured to be a refugee or asylum-seeker.

10) Can refugees ever become U.S. citizens?

Yes, after five years as a lawful permanent resident or three years of marriage to a U.S. citizen. They must also meet other naturalization requirements and pass a naturalization test.

IV) Torture Treatment in California

1)    What are the effects of torture?

Torture survivors may be left with lifelong physical and mental health problems if not treated by trained professionals. Survivors often endure post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, nightmares, chronic pain, and other long-term effects.

2)    What kinds of experiences are likely to evoke memories of torture?

  • Waiting rooms, crying children
  • Loud, pounding noises
  • Men in uniforms
  • Surveillance cameras

3)    What do you mean when you say survivors of torture are “underserved”?

Many people—even in the medical community—do not know very much about this unique population. There are few specialized facilities and funding is limited.

Key issues include: lack of knowledge and specialized skill among providers; limited availability of specialized services; language barriers; mistrust of institutions and medical professionals by survivors; stigmas about receiving mental health care services; and financial obstacles.

4)    How does treatment help the clients?

Treatment helps survivors heal from their trauma, rebuild trust in others, and reconnect to their families and communities, restoring self-esteem, dignity and hope. As clients heal, they are able to go back to school and find jobs. They become self-supporting and productive members of society.

5)    What is the U.S. Torture Victims Relief Act?

The Torture Victims Relief Act, first passed in 1998, funds treatment centers for torture survivors living in the United States. It also provides support to treatment centers for torture survivors in other countries, and it authorizes a contribution to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which supports treatment centers worldwide.

6)    Where have their clients come from?

More than 105 countries around the world.

7)    How many clients do they serve per year?

Each center serves about 150-250 clients per year.

8)    Are there torture treatment centers in other parts of the world?

Yes, there are about 130 members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).