The Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
…labors in support of health, welfare, and justice, and provides positive life options
for the abused.
Torture, defined neutrally for legal purposes as “the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty,” is in reality so much more. Torture aims to break down human will, the intangible “something” that makes each person unique, leaving behind a living shell. Destroying the human will is perhaps one the cruelest of the inhumanities man can inflict on one another; that said, however, thousands of people do, in fact, survive being tortured and go on to heal and rebuild their lives. Two specialized organizations, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (PSOT) and the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), are dedicated to making this a reality for all survivors who enter into their programs.
The Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture was established in 1995 and is the only comprehensive treatment center in the New York City area. PSOT offers a variety of services from medical to legal to its patients. Potential patients come to the PSOT through word of mouth, other human rights organizations, or the myriad of groups working with those who are taking refuge in the U.S. They are evaluated, and either admitted into the program or referred elsewhere. As there are other programs available to U.S. citizens and residents, PSOT works primarily with torture survivors from abroad, particularly those seeking asylum in the United States.
PSOT works from the idea that their patients are “individuals with resources and assets that helped them survive the traumatic events that they experienced and that can be mobilized to help them as they rebuild their lives in the United States. If given support and relief from immediate stressors, most survivors can mobilize their inherent capacities for adjusting, healing, and coping.” Once accepted into the program, patients work with a team of physical and mental healthcare providers, legal advisors, English teachers, and social workers for treatment. For 6–18 months there is intense therapy, coupled with lessons in English and literacy. Once discharged, usually with applications for asylum and authorization to work, there are services still available and follow-up to the treatment. The opportunity to return for help is always available should the need arise. PSOT partners with other organizations to ensure that their clients’ needs are met.
The Program for Survivors of Torture is dedicated to helping survivors of torture from overseas heal and return to a semblance of normal life here in the United States. The Center for Victims of Torture, however, not only works with victims in the United States, but trains people internationally to help people in their own countries.
The Center for Victims of Torture, or CVT, grew out of a challenge made by a son to his father, then-Governor Perpich of Minnesota, about what he was doing to help survivors of torture. From that question came the idea to start an in-house rehabilitation center in St. Paul in 1985. CVT started in a clinic, but in two years the center had moved into a house full of windows and home décor, making it more homelike and comfortable for the patients, nothing like what they had endured while being tortured. Every year, CVT treats around 700 survivors and their family members in St. Paul. Many of the patients are educated, and often had been leaders in their home countries, enduring tortured for any number of reasons, including political.
By 1993, CVT was beginning its international program, training healthcare providers specifically for treating torture survivors. In 1999, it had a treatment/healing program established in West Africa to care for refugees. It also trains people locally to continue the services offered once it leaves the area for another place. Part of the organization’s goal is to increase the number of caregivers in the areas where there are few places for survivors to go for effective treatment. CVT also does extensive research into torture, always looking for better forms of treatment for use in their training programs. It has an office in Washington, DC., giving torture survivors a voice in advocating for peace and an end to torture.
The Program for Survivors of Torture and The Center for Victims of Torture work from the firm belief that torture survivors are resilient and can heal. They work constantly to help these people reclaim and rebuild their lives, and even to be trained to help others in their turn. They believe that the human spirit is resilient and that those who come to them can move beyond torture to lead fulfilling lives.