There are many things that need to be considered when dealing with victims of torture

Teenage girl looking sadly into camera

Definition of torture 

The term 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. - United Nations 1984

Survivors of torture may not volunteer their history due to feelings of guilt, shame or mistrust.

Some children may have experienced torture themselves or have witnessed others being tortured. Many female, and some male, refugees are survivors of sexual violence including rape.

Young carers of torture survivors can find themselves interpreting the experiences of their families to health and social care services with detrimental effects upon the whole family. This information could have a traumatising impact upon the child as well the person in need of care experiencing feelings of shame and guilt. 

Care of interpreters

Children should not act as interpreters­. When using an interpreter with someone who has been a victim of torture you may find that the interpreter may also need debriefing after a session.

Physical and psychological impacts

Victims of torture often experience long-term or permanent physical and psychological impacts:

Physical impacts may include:

  • Physical injury or disability;
  • Sensory impairments to the head;
  • Epilepsy resulting from injury;
  • Non­-specific musculoskeletal symptoms such as pain and weakness;
  • Permanent scarring;
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne viruses including HIV and AIDS­.

Psychological impact may include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Suicidal tendencies.

Barriers to accessing support

Some people do not initially admit to their experiences of torture. This may be through shame or unwillingness to disclose sensitive information.

Victims of torture may present themselves with many non­-specific health problems and may not wish to disclose information about their experiences.

Cultural and language barriers may impact upon the individual and prevent them from discussing their needs fully.

Making disclosures of sexual violence can be very traumatic for survivors uncomfortable discussing their experiences. Survivors of sexual violence, male or female, should be able to choose the gender of both their health care worker and interpreter.

Suggestions for good practice support provision

Signpost to psychological and counselling support, this could include individual counselling for the adults and children, family therapy and psychotherapy.

Provide translated materials and resources for families about support they can access locally and what they can expect from it.

When using interpreters it is important to ensure the person in need of support trusts the interpreter and is happy to talk to them. Consider and check whether the language, dialect, gender, religion and region that the interpreter is from are all appropriate.

Even when all these criteria are met it is important to confirm that the interpreter is an accredited interpreter and not known to the client.

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