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Services for Survivors of Torture

Published: August 9, 2012

Program Goal

The Services for Survivors of Torture Program is committed to enabling persons who have suffered torture by foreign governments to regain their health and independence and rebuild productive lives in the U.S., not as victims, but as survivors.

General Background

The Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998 (TVRA), provides funding for a comprehensive program of support for survivors of torture. The TVRA recognizes that a significant number of refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers entering the United States have suffered torture. These torture survivors, now living in the United States, should be provided with the rehabilitative services which would enable them to become productive members of our communities.

Grants to programs in the United States fund the following services: 

  • Rehabilitation of victims of torture, including treatment of the physical and psychological effects of torture.
  • Social and legal services for victims of torture.
  • Research and training for health care providers outside of treatment centers, or programs for the purpose of enabling such providers to provide the services described in paragraph (1).

Program Description

Torture may have been an experience of many members of groups now residing in the United States who were tortured by foreign governments, including refugees, asylees, immigrants, other displaced persons, and U.S. citizens. Estimates of the number of torture survivors have been established primarily by extrapolating from the major populations at risk--refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons. In 2008, the United Nations estimated there to be nearly 16,000,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the world and 26,000,000 internally displaced persons. The estimates of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons who have been tortured vary widely from 5% to 35%. This announcement, which focuses on physical, psychological, social, and legal services for torture survivors as well as education and training of service providers, recognizes that torture may have been an experience of many members of groups residing in the U.S. including refugees, asylees, asylum seekers, immigrants, other displaced persons, and U.S. citizens who were tortured abroad.

The ORR program funding announcement includes two areas of emphasis:

  1. Assistance to Torture Survivors through Direct Services, services are funded that meet the medical, psychological, social, and legal needs of torture survivors. Activities also include outreach and training for community service providers that have access to or work with torture survivors.  A total of 27 grantees are currently funded in 17 states to provide direct services to persons who have been tortured and their family members.
  2. Technical Assistance to Organizations and Institutions Providing Direct Services to Torture Survivors. Two cooperative agreements are funded under this priority area to design and deliver technical assistance that enables programs to provide effective services to torture survivors.

Eligible Population

Clients are determined eligible for the Services for Torture Survivors Program in accordance with the TVRA authorizing legislation. This legislation uses the following definition of torture given in section 2340(1) of title 18, United States Code:

  1. “torture” means 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;
  2. "severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from −
    (A)  the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B)  the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C)  the threat of imminent death; or
    (D)  the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality

As used in the TVRA, this definition also includes the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence by a person acting under the color of law, upon another person under his custody or physical control.

Online Resource Center

www.HealTorture.org is the new online resource center created for programs serving torture survivors, individuals wishing to learn more about serving this population, and for survivors looking for information and services.



Contact Information

Jewel Roberts, MSW
Program Manager
Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
901 D Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 202.205.9557
Fax: 202.401.0981