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Program Spotlight - Survivors of Torture Program

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The IRC in Tucson’s Center for Well-being is dedicated to helping people affected by conflict access mental health and psychosocial support. We utilize a holistic approach emphasizing prevention, education, and lifestyle management, and empower refugees to make long-term and lasting changes that support healing and optimum health. One of the core programs in the Center for Well-being is our Survivors of Torture Program.

Sewing project made by clients of our Center for Well-being department, including some in our Survivors of Torture Program.

Who We Serve

In our work, we serve refugees, asylees, and asylum-seekers who qualify under the federal definition of torture:

“…an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” (US Code: 2340{1} Title 18, Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998)

The survivor must have experienced torture at the hands of someone in an official, authoritative capacity. For instance,

  • Members of government bodies
  • Members of military groups
  • Police officers
  • Militia and insurgent groups
  • Guerilla and rebel groups
  • Warlords and their agents

Why is Torture used?

  • To stifle political opposition or marginalize minority groups
  • To coerce confessions, information, or cooperation
  • To intimidate citizens and instill fear into communities
  • Torture destroys trust and tears apart the fabric of societies
  • Torture is the most effective weapon against democracy

As of 2015, research from the Center for Victims of Torture suggests that 44% of refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers living in the U.S. have experienced torture. Applying this to Arizona, it is estimated that in Arizona we have 25,000 refugees and between 4,000 and 5,000 asylum seekers who are survivors of torture (including those who arrived as early as 1978).

What They Face

As you might well imagine, these individuals who flee areas of armed conflict to seek safe haven in the United States carry with them physical and mental burdens. And these effects of torture are far-reaching across many aspects of life:

Effects on Family/ Community

  • Loss of Trust
  • Family Violence
  • Social Chaos
  • Intergenerational Conflict
  • Shame

Effects on Physical Health

  • Somatoform Disorders
  • Disabilities
  • Scarring
  • Chronic Pain

Effects on Psychological Wellness

  • Memory Loss
  • Extreme Anxiety or Depression
  • Survivor Guilt
  • Loss of Identity
  • Sleep Troubles
  • Hopelessness

What We Do

The IRC in Tucson offers comprehensive, culturally competent case management and counseling services to clients who fit the federal criteria for Survivors of Torture as well as secondary survivors (i.e., family members). These services may be both traditional and nontraditional in areas of health/medical, psychological/psychiatric, social, and legal services.

  • Medical access – Primary Care Provider and specialists
  • Psychological support – therapy, medication
  • Social services – can include housing, public benefits, employment assistance etc.
  • Legal services– lawyers or other legal needs

These services are provided in coordination with the greater IRC office and in partnership with local service providers and there is no time limit on services, which can be reopened as needed. Programs are designed to provide holistic, strengths-based, and trauma-informed services to survivors and their families to assist them in the healing and recovery process and promote safety, inspire confidence, respect choice, and assist the survivor towards self-determination.

Through this work, survivors restore their health and dignity as they reunite with family, rebuild their lives, and integrate into their new communities.

IRC AZ Survivors of Torture Program is a member of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs.

Research from Center for Victims of Torture: https://www.cvt.org/sites/default/files/SurvivorNumberMetaAnalysis_Sept2015_0.pdf