4 December 2015

New Report Sheds Light on Torture Survivors Living in the U.S., Documents Torture in 125 Countries

In the midst of the United States and other nations facing historic decisions about how to help and care for a flood refugees fleeing conflict and violence around the world, a paper authored by 23 centers of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs paints a nuanced portrait of 9,025 torture survivors living in the United States many of whom are refugees or asylum seekers. This paper documents torture in 125 countries.

The report’s findings are drawn from the largest collection of data compiled and published about torture survivors across a single country.

This research casts light on the high mental health consequences of torture, in addition to torture’s impact on survivors’ physical health. We know from the professional literature that hypertension and diabetes have increased prevalence among torture survivors.

In assembling this rich body of knowledge, the authors’ aim is to galvanize support for funding to expand and strengthen treatment services. They also seek to encourage further research into treatment outcomes to establish additional standards of care within the field to help survivors, providers and communities grapple with this public health issue.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Torture is documented in 125 countries across the world. The 9,025 individual torture survivors came from 125 different countries.
  • Either Ethiopia or Iraq, contributed the most survivors every year of the six-year project.
  • 10 of the 125 countries account for over half (55.5% / 5,019) of the torture survivors. Those countries are: Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Cameroon, Uganda, Congo DR, Eritrea, Cambodia and Iran.
  • 9 of the top 10 countries signed the United Nations Convention against Torture. (Iran did not.)
  • 87 percent (109) of the 125 countries in which torture is documented signed the UN Convention against Torture. The implications of this are profound for torture prevention.
  • Survivors need both Psychiatric and Medical treatment. Sixty-nine percent of the survivors, for whom psychiatric diagnoses were submitted, had post-traumatic stress disorder; 52.4% had major depressive disorder. Rape reported by 32% of female survivors. Survivors reported experiencing an average of 3.5 types of torture. Hypertension and Diabetes documentation is planned for the NCTTP’s next study.
  • Differences between Asylum Seeker and Refugee Survivors. Asylum seekers, as compared to refugees at intake, had statistically higher percentages of both PTSD and MDD at intake. Demographically, the asylum seekers were younger than refugees (37.1 as compared to 43.4 years old), and also reported more education in their countries of origin (13.8 years of education for asylum seekers vs. 9.75 years reported by refugees).
  • Earlier Treatment Limits Depression. Refugees showed statistically higher rates of MDD at intake if they accessed treatment more than one year after arriving in the U.S. versus accessing treatment at one year or less after arriving.
  • Positive Outcomes. At one and two years after beginning treatment, both asylum seekers and refugees reported increased rates of employment and improvements in their immigration status.

Demographic data:

  • Country of Origin: Torture survivors came from all five major regions of the world, with over half (51%) from Africa, 31% from Asia, nine percent from Europe, six percent from the Americas, and two percent from the Pacific Islands.
  • Age: The age range at intake into treatment services of survivors was from toddlers to individuals over 80, with an average age at intake of 40.2 years. Seven percent of the survivors were children under 14 years of age, and 13.6% were over 65.
  • Religion: In terms of religious affiliation, 84% were either Christian or Muslim (46.3% and 37.4%, respectively).
  • Immigration Status: Information on immigration status showed 50.6% asylum seekers, 27.3% as refugees, with the remaining survivors, shown as lawful permanent residents, asylees, U.S. citizens, or another immigration status.
  • Gender: Males slightly outnumbered females, 53% to 46.4%, with .6% identifying as transgender.

Six years in the making, this study (“Descriptive, inferential, functional outcome data on 9,025 torture survivors over six years in the United States”) was authored by 23 of the 34 member centers of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs, www.NCTTP.org

The article, the first in a series of planned studies, will be published in the journal TORTURE, which is published by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

The majority of U.S. public funding for survivor of torture programs in the U.S. is distributed through the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health & Human Services. Many of the 23 centers participating in this study received ORR funding to provide treatment services.

According to some estimates, more than one million refugees and asylum seekers now living in the U.S. are torture survivors. A fraction of those individuals received services at one of the torture treatment centers that participated in this study.

Read the entire article in the Torture Journal (Vol 25, Issue 2) here:

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