Center for Victims of Torture
The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) is an international non-profit headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota that provides direct care for those who have been tortured, trains partner organizations in the United States and around the world who can prevent and treat torture, conducts research to understand how best to heal survivors, and advocates for an end to torture.
CVT's mission is to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities, and to end torture worldwide and it has won the APA International Humanitarian Award from the American Psychological Association
Since its founding in 1985, CVT has:
- Rehabilitated over 30,000 survivors through direct healing.
- Engaged in post-conflict community building after some of the world’s deadliest wars, working in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan and Kenya.
- Pioneered research in torture survivor rehabilitation to better understand the effects of torture and how best to heal survivors.
- Led efforts to end the practice of torture by the US government, including President Obama’s executive order banning torture and cruel treatment.
CVT provides care for survivors at its healing center in St. Paul, Minnesota and at projects in Jordan, the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya,Nairobi, Kenya, Uganda and in northern Ethiopia working with Eritrean refugees. It has an office in Washington D.C.
The Center for Victims of Torture is a 501(c)(3) organization that is recognized by the Charities Review Council, the American Institute of Philanthropy, and Charity Navigator for its well-managed use of donations.
CVT was founded as a result of actions by Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich. Gov. Perpich directed a committee of human rights experts to research various initiatives to support human rights in Minnesota. The most ambitious proposal from this group was a rehabilitation center for survivors of torture. Governor Perpich embraced the idea. He went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to visit the first treatment center in the world, the Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims and appointed a task force to determine how such a center could be established in Minnesota.
A Home for Healing
CVT was founded in 1985 as an independent, nongovernmental organization. For the first two years care was provided at the International Clinic of St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center. In 1987, CVT moved to a more home-like, less institutional setting that would feel welcoming to survivors. Today, CVT provides care from the St. Paul Healing Center. The house was designed to meet the needs of torture survivors, with domestic furnishings, large windows and rooms with rounded or angled corners to create an environment much different from the stark, square rooms with glaring lights that most torture survivors experienced.
Expanding Healing Services
CVT’s international work began in Bosnia and Croatia in 1993. During the war, CVT psychotherapists traveled to the region to train care providers in the specialized treatment of torture survivors. In 1995, CVT began working with centers in Turkey to strengthen the skills of medical professionals and nongovernmental organizations that work with survivors.
In 1999, CVT launched its first international direct healing program working with Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, West Africa. They provided direct mental health counseling to refugees who were suffering from torture and trauma due to the multiple conflicts in the region. CVT psychotherapists also trained residents of the refugee camps as paraprofessional psychosocial peer counselors – peer mental health counselors – who continue to support a local mental health network after the program finished in 2005.
Supporting Rehabilitation Services for Survivors
CVT has launched a number of training initiatives to build more resources for appropriate and sensitive care of torture survivors. CVT provides training and technical assistance to torture survivor rehabilitation centers in the United States through a program called the National Capacity-Building project (NCB) and abroad through its project Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH). Training initiatives are designed to build a network of healing professionals where few exist, and for those who participate in a CVT training project to continue providing healing services long after CVT leaves a country.
Advocating for Survivors
CVT established a presence in Washington D.C. in 1992, with a volunteer representing CVT. At the time, CVT learned that the United States was withholding funds pledged to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, an agency that provides financial support to torture survivor rehabilitation centers worldwide. CVT worked with faith-based groups and the human rights community to secure the release of nearly $400,000 – at the time, the largest contribution in the history of the UN Fund.
Since then, CVT continued to cultivate bipartisan support for healing survivors of torture. The Torture Victims Relief Act, originating with former Senator Dave Durenberger (R-MN), authorizes federal support for torture survivor rehabilitation programs in the U.S. and abroad. As a result of TVRA, since 2000 the United States has been the world’s largest donor to torture survivor rehabilitation.
In 1998 CVT organized domestic centers into the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs and provides training on advocacy and building constituency.
In addition to seeking financial support for torture rehabilitation, CVT collaborated with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Evangelicals for Human Rights to advocate against the use of torture by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.
Torture Survivor Rehabilitation
International Healing Services
CVT provides direct care to torture survivors in areas of the world where few mental health resources are available. Working in refugee camps and areas where conflict has devastated entire communities, CVT trains local community members to meet the mental health needs in their communities for the long term.
Healing Survivors of Torture and War
CVT provides counseling and community mental health activities to adults and children who suffered torture and war trauma. Most survivors receive small group counseling. These small groups meet weekly for about ten weeks, and, depending on the nature of the trauma, might be divided into different populations including adults, children, men and women, girls and boys.
Survivors with severe trauma symptoms receive private individual counseling, with many joining small group counseling when they are able. CVT international healing projects help an average of 1,600 torture and war trauma survivors each year.
Survivors receiving care from CVT are followed closely to measure their healing. CVT research consistently report significant decreases in mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as decreases in somatic (physical) symptoms. Survivors also express more hope for the future and better relationships after receiving help from CVT.
Training Peer Counselors
In addition to providing direct mental health services, CVT trains members of the community and the refugee population to be skilled group counselors, advocates, educators and trainers. The goal is to develop mental health resources where none existed before. These paraprofessional mental health counselors undergo an intensive orientation and basic training period. Then they participate in small group counseling sessions with a professional psychotherapist experienced in torture and trauma recovery. Throughout their work with CVT, they receive ongoing professional training and daily mentoring with a professional psychotherapist modeling, observing and giving feedback after every counseling session and activity.
Former counselors trained by CVT have been hired by the International Criminal Court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and other organizations where extensive mental health expertise is required.
CVT conducts training and awareness-raising activities in the local communities, including teachers, religious and local leaders to help them understand the effects of torture on individuals and communities. CVT initiates non-counseling activities such as sports, games, drama, art and play therapy to engage the whole community in the healing process and reach out to survivors who could benefit from CVT services. Every year, thousands of community members learn of CVT through these activities.
Culturally Sensitive Care
A hallmark of CVT’s international healing services is the combination of contemporary Western psychotherapy approaches with culturally appropriate methods of healing. This approach was adopted in its first international healing initiative in Guinea, where CVT psychotherapists and the peer counselors included ritual, storytelling and song in the healing process. That practice continues by adapting counseling to incorporate culturally appropriate traditions, concepts and customs into the healing process. The psychotherapists are highly skilled trauma therapists who have worked in culturally diverse environments.
CVT international healing projects are funded by the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the European Union, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and USAID and the American people.
Minnesota Healing Services
In Minnesota all healing services are provided on an outpatient basis at CVT's St. Paul Healing Center. The Center is located in a renovated Victorian home to create a comfortable and welcoming environment.
Each survivor works with a team of specialists who provide:
- Medical treatment, including psychiatric services and referrals to specialists as needed
- Nursing care to help monitor physical conditions and facilitate referrals to specialists
- Psychotherapy with a psychologist, marriage and family therapist or clinical social worker
- Social services to connect survivors with other organizations and basic needs, and to provide case management to reduce the need for more intensive interventions such as hospitalization
- Massage, occupational and physical therapies to increase mobility and relieve physical pain
For survivors who don’t speak English, interpreters play an integral role in the healing process.
Stages of healing
Torture is an attack on all aspects of a person's life. Its effects reach beyond the individual to the family and the community. As part of the holistic healing approach, survivors in Minnesota receive individual and group counseling. The counseling addresses individual situations while helping survivors learn how to trust and rebuild relationships for a more fulfilling life. CVT’s healing teams guide survivors through three stages of healing:
- Safety and Stabilization: re-establishing health and trust; discussing legal resources and processes; ensuring clients have housing, clothing, food and medical care.
- Grief and Mourning: working through what happened.
- Reconnection: getting back to community and life purpose and developing and repairing relationships with friends and family.
Support Services When a survivor is ready to reconnect with the community, volunteers provide important support services, such as teaching survivors how to read a bus schedule and navigate public transportation, tutoring survivors in English, accompanying survivors on visits to a museum, library, concert, coffee shop or grocery store.
National Capacity Building Project
The National Capacity Building Project (NCB) focuses on building networks of rehabilitation centers and service providers, fostering knowledge-sharing and relationship-building among colleagues in the field, and providing expert professional training and technical assistance. Training for torture treatment professionals focuses on:
- Clinical skills and best practices
- Organizational development and fundraising
- Program management
- Data collection and program evaluation
HealTorture.org serves as a rich repository of information related to torture survivors and their treatment and healing. Through webinar trainings, professional journal articles and publications, bibliographies, treatment manuals, and other online resources, the site hosts a wealth of valuable information intended for psychologists and various therapists, social workers, physicians and nurses, lawyers, and administrators. The website also serves as a portal to other centers and organizations that work with and support survivors of torture.
New Tactics in Human Rights
New Tactics in Human Rights trains human rights defenders around the world to be more effective in their work. The New Tactics Strategic Effectiveness method guides human rights defenders you problem to action.
Core training includes how to: Develop strategies to achieve a human rights goal Choose and implement tactics to support the strategy. The trainings are focused on helping human rights defenders learn and use the tools and processes of the Strategic Effectiveness method. New Tactics in Human Rights provides hands-on activities and experience working with others to create a strategy and identify effective tactics. Defenders share their knowledge, find new allies and map out solutions with other human rights defenders, with the goal of learning news ways to evaluate and approach their work.
Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH) creates a network of rehabilitation professionals who provide intellectual and emotional support for the difficult work of providing healing services to torture survivors. PATH works with ten centers focusing on three areas: mental health treatment and healing, monitoring and evaluation, and organizational development.
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- Archived December 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.