Frequently asked questions

What is torture?

Torture is a deliberate and systematic dismantling of a person’s identity and humanity through physical or psychological pain and suffering. Torture’s purpose is to destroy a sense of community, eliminate leaders, create a climate of fear and produce a culture of apathy.

In the United States, the definition of torture is given in the Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA), 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

How do I learn about the Healing Process?

You can learn about the healing process through the resources on this FAQ page. After your initial questions are answered, we recommend reading Healing the Hurt to give you more of a grounding in the basic considerations in working with survivors of torture. You can find out more about how different disciplines contribute to the healing process by exploring the items in the menu bar on this web site.

What can I learn about via webinars or by watching videos?

There is an extensive collection of archived webinars available on, searchable by content area. Each webinar is a roughly hour-long audio-video presentation by an expert or panel of experts. The presentations represent the wide range of disciplines and approaches that are used in helping torture survivors heal. also hosts a modest collection of videos. These include the hour-long feature on the Center for Victims of Torture entitled Terror to Healing, and a selection of videos on Healing and the Pursuit of Justice: Challenging Sexual Assault as an Instrument of

What does offer Service Providers? has resources for providers of service to survivors of torture in many fields, including legal, mental health, medical, or social service fields. There are also resources for people working in the operation and administration of organizations serving torture survivors. These resources include webinars, videos, articles, bibliographies, a listserv, and online courses. We strive to improve our resources on a regular basis and encourage you to suggest content.

What if I am a new employee to a program serving torture survivors?

If you are a new employee in a program serving torture survivors, please review the resources in your area and then also read Healing the Hurt. Also take time to review the Webinars and the Videos.

Please also take a moment to review our eLearning options on, which includes Fundamentals of Providing Services to Torture Survivors. You must have an account as a Member or eLearner Subscriber and logged into your account to take the lessons, if you do not have an account, please click here to sign up.

What resources are available to students researching the healing process of torture survivors?

Many of the resources at will be useful to students.

You may want to start with Survivors of War, Oppression, and Torture: Information for Students. This is a PDF of a special bibliography that was created by volunteers and staff of the Center for Victims of Torture as a resource for high school and college students seeking information on survivors of war-related violence residing in the United States. Each section contains a short definition or relevant quote, followed by a list of resources such as books, websites, videos, and organizations.

Who is considered a torture survivor?

According to Title 18 of the U.S. legal 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,

What types of services do torture survivors need?

To heal from the wounds of torture and trauma, survivors often need medical assistance and psychological services. Since many torture survivors have resettled in new and foreign communities, they need social services to help them adjust to a new environment. Additionally, since many survivors are refugees or asylum-seekers, they often need legal assistance in the United States. Healing centers can help provide these services to help survivors move on from their experiences to lead happy and productive lives.

How many torture survivors are there?

Torture survivors often remain silent about their experiences due to a variety of reasons including fear of continued persecution and feelings of shame and isolation. Because of this, it is difficult to procure an accurate statistic about torture. However, it has been estimated by the U.S. govermnent’s Office of Refugee Resettlement and Amnesty International that over 500,000 torture survivors live in the United States alone.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum-seeker?

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.  Refugees are admitted into the country by the U.S. government and may apply for legal permanent resident status one year after being admitted as a refugee.

Asylum-seekers also flee persecution, but people in this category head

How do I assist someone I suspect or know to be a torture survivor?

One way you can help is to refer them to a torture treatment center near them.

You can also educate yourself and others about how traumatic experiences and their impact are a nearly universal experience and how broad the impact can be on mind, body, spirit, and relationships. This archived webinar from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services gives information about the power of a personal story in the recovery from trauma, the value of the “person as teacher,” and the value of being an active listener.

What else can I do to help?

By educating yourself about torture survivors, you are already helping to spread awareness about this issue. Since most healing centers are non-profits, donations help them to expand their services and better assist more survivors. You can also help by advocating against torture both in the U.S. and abroad by contacting your elected representatives and voicing your concern. One of the most important things you can do to help is to be aware of current events and the needs of torture survivors in your community. Follow HealTorture on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date about the needs of

Who is eligible for membership at

We are updating our Membership and creating an eLearning Subscriber option to increase access to our online eLearning courses. You can select to either become a Member or an eLearning Subscriber by filling out the form below. Member qualifications: To become eligible for membership of, you must qualify for one of the following:

  • a current member of staff working in Survivors of Torture (SOT) programs funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Services for Survivors of Torture Grant Program;
  • a current staff member of SOT
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