Descriptive, inferential, functional outcome data on 9,025 torture survivors over six years in the United States
Keywords:torture, PTSD, asylum seeker, refugee, United Nations Convention against Torture, Major Depressive Disorder, immigration status, treatment, demographic findings
Background: The National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs conducted a large voluntary research project among torture rehabilitation centers in the United States (US). Its goal is to fill the void in the literature on demographic and diagnostic data of torture survivors across a large country.
Methods: Twenty-three centers across the US collaborated over six years, utilizing training and making decisions via conference calls and webinars. A data use agreement signed by all the participating centers governed plans and the use of the data.
Findings: This study reports on torture survivors from 125 countries, 109 of which signed the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT). Of the 9,025 torture survivors represented, most came from Africa and Asia and reported an average of 3.5 types of torture. Asylum seekers have different immigration experiences and show significantly higher rates of major depressive disorder (MDD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than refugees. Torture survivors at high risk of PTSD and MDD in this sample reported three or more types of torture, reported rape and had the immigration status of asylum seeker. At one and two years after beginning treatment, both asylum seekers and refugees reported increased rates of employment and improvements in their immigration status.
Interpretation: This longitudinal project provides basic data on a large number of torture survivors who accessed services in the US, and provides a foundation for long-term follow up on immigration status, employment status, diagnostic status, medical diagnoses, and eventually, the effectiveness of treatment for torture survivors in the US. This article shares demographic and diagnostic findings useful for informing programmatic and policy decisions. However, these findings on refugees and asylum seekers in the US may not reflect the experience in other receiving countries. Collaboration with other researchers across continents is required to provide a much needed, more complete picture of torture survivors seeking rehabilitation across the world.
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