(Additional information regarding violence and trauma can be found in the Special Report section of the April 2001 issue of Psychiatric Times-Ed.)
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in Boston operates an Asylum Network of over 300 health care professionals to help people who have fled torture or other persecution in their native countries and are seeking political asylum in the United States. Volunteers conduct examinations of asylum applicants and prepare written testimony.
According to PHR literature: Through physical and psychological examinations, health professionals can determine whether injuries or trauma sustained by the applicant are consistent with the person's account of his or her experiences. Health professionals can also help judges and attorneys understand the effects of trauma on the applicant's behavior, memory, understanding and demeanor.
Natalie Audage, Asylum Network coordinator, told Psychiatric Times that 100 of the members currently are psychiatrists, and more are needed. "We give training seminars but they're not necessary to do this work," she explained. "For anyone who wants to do this, we will send a training manual and sample affidavit, and provide an experienced mentor to help."
Most physicians and psychologists qualify to provide expert testimony. It is not necessary that they have prior specific experience in treating torture victims.
PHR is contacted by lawyers who want medical evaluations of their clients and then locates a volunteer member who can take the case. Lawyers will provide translators as needed. Volunteers are not required to appear in court to provide testimony, and commitment for involvement may be as limited as taking one case a year.
For more information on PHR, visit <www.phrusa.org>. For more information on joining the network, contact Audage at (617)695-0041, ext. 216.
Since 1998, established centers in the United States devoted specifically to helping torture survivors have joined in a consortium headed by the Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture.
Douglas A. Johnson, M.P.P.M., executive director of the center, explained that many of the various programs (see below for member list) had been informally collaborating since 1992. In 1998, the consortium was formalized and held its first annual conference for clinical discussion, research, training and planning. This year's conference was held in Minnesota on October 20.
"We have 17 members now and there are other programs beginning," Johnson told Psychiatric Times. "And the many other organizations working with refugees have also been wrestling with how to manage the intense issues of torture. We're in contact with and hope to be helpful to them."
Johnson explained that since so many of the wounds of torture are psychological and "there are certainly changes in the biology of torture victims as well," psychiatrists throughout the world are becoming very involved in understanding these effects and helping to fashion treatment programs.
"There's a great deal of suffering and need," he noted. "We need more psychiatrists to volunteer, to assume staff leadership and to become involved in projects and research."
For more information, contact the Center for Victims of Torture at (612)626-1400 or visit their Web site at <www.cvt.org>.Center for Victims of Torture Member List
Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma: (410)467-7664; www.eagle1.american.edu/~ar4387a/ASTTHome.htm
Amigos de los Sobrevivientes: (541)484-2450; www.pacinfo.com/eugene/tsnet/
Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture: (212)263-8269; www.survivorsoftorture.org
Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights: (617)638-4626; www.glphr.org/bcrhhr
Center for Survivors of Torture: (214)352-9489; www.cyberramp.net/~cst/
Center for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma: (314)776-4505
Center for Victims of Torture: (612)626-1400; www.cvt.org
Doctors of the World - USA: (212)226-9890; www.doctorsoftheworld.org
Institute for the Study of Psychopolitical Trauma: (408)342-6545
Khmer Health Advocates: (860)561-3345; www.cambodianhealth.org
Marjorie Kovler Center: (773)271-6357; www.heartland_alliance.org/chokovl.htm
Program for Survivors of Torture and Severe Trauma: (703)533-3302; www.cmhsweb.org/services/torture
Program for Torture Victims, Venice Family Clinic: (562)494-5444
Rocky Mountain Survivor Center: (303)321-3221; home.earthlink.net/~rmhc
Solace - A Program for Survivors of Torture and Refugee Trauma: (718)899-1233
Survivors International: (415)765-6999; www.survivorsintl.org
Survivors of Torture, International: (619)582-90184/01