I Work With Victims of Torture

“For everybody I work with, the most important thing is sanctuary and safety."
vice informer interview of a therapist wearing a mask

Torture is a sadistic act designed to break its victims and instill terror in their communities. And long after the abuse has ended, its horrors haunt survivors long into their new lives in supposedly safe countries.

For the most recent episode of VICE’s Informer series, we spoke to a clinician who works with torture victims who have escaped their tormentors and made it to the UK.

She told VICE that despite being illegal under international law, torture is still practiced in many countries.


“Torture is more prolific than people realize,” she said. “I think if people realize the extent of torture, they’d be absolutely horrified and shocked. It can break people into a thousand pieces, so they can never rebuild themselves again.”

Torture could take many forms—from physical to psychological and emotional abuse, she said.

“There’s physical pain, which could be limb amputation, fingernails being pulled out, beatings, whippings, genitalia burning,” she said. “There’s deprivation of food, water, sunlight, social isolation. People are often detained and then shown footage of their family or pictures of their children walking to school.”

Torture could be used for a number of reasons. Unlike in the movies, torture isn’t just used to extract secret information, she said, but could be used to punish people merely for exercising basic human rights, for protesting, or simply for belonging to groups being targeted by those in power.

For the victims she worked with, she said, their experiences in distant countries, sometimes years earlier, had left them with deep psychological and spiritual scars,

“When people come to us, they’re absolutely broken from the traumatic experiences they’ve had in the past,” she said. “Individuals look at the floor, don't trust people, feel very small.” 


Many were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which gave them nightmares and flashbacks which left them reliving their traumatic experiences time and time again.

She described one of the young people she had helped “as the most amazing person in the world I’ve ever met.”

The young man, whose country of origin VICE is not disclosing to help protect his privacy, had endured horrific torture there since he was detained at the age of 14 and held in a cave with a group of other teenagers.

“People were dragged off in the middle of the night. He could hear them screaming, being beaten, having fingers cut off, and then they were thrown back into the floor to sleep with him,” said the woman. 

“He was forced to tie bottles around his genitalia, walk round in circles while people routinely beat him with the butt of rifles.”

She said the young man had somehow managed to escape this treatment and make the arduous journey to the UK, where he was now trying to build a life.

“For everybody I work with, the most important thing is sanctuary and safety,” she said.

“That’s why it’s so fulfilling working with torture victims. To be able to see the small pieces of themselves come back together is just the most beautiful thing in the world.”