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Witnessing Torture - Fear





























about trauma survivors.

Survivors have reached out with testimony and analysis, stories of all kinds, in an offering of trust with the hopes that you will do your best to see the world through their eyes. Whether or not reading will offer you the chance to see through those eyes, to really hear those voices, largely depends on your own willingness to imagine. Might find yourself with the discomforting knowledge of torturer’s effects seen from a seat of privileged comfort. The survivors have offered their stories in the hopes that somehow the world begin to see torture for what it is: a global scourge whose effects are felt in stories lived and told in myriad languages that cannot be allowed to persist in our world. Bridging the distance between survivors and non-survivors can be daunting. There is a deeper level on which those of us looking in from outside will never understand the suffering nor the healing which people who have survived torture have known. Yet there is a level on which each of us, if we accept the trust offered to us in these stories, can rid ourselves of the artificial distance—if only we are willing to translate, imagine, and speak it. Re-creating a sense of safety is central to work with trauma survivors. Creating safety is an active process, initiated in part when one recognizes the survivor’s basic needs, including food, clothing, and shelter,all of which are often problematic when one comes to a new country. Survivors frequently experience significant anxiety about how they may be viewed, and whether they will be believed if they share their life stories. Health professionals can play an important role in assessing asylum seekers, as to the effects of torture and persecution. This involves interviewing and examining the patient about their past history prior to torture and persecution, their torture experiences, their life after torture, both in their country of origin and after arriving in the asylum country, the nature of their escape, past medical and psychiatric history and treatment, family history, mental status examination, and physical examination. Not having been witness to the events shared by the patient, the role of health professionals at this stage is to assess whether the symptoms with which they present are consistent with the narrative they have related. With the “war on terror” and questions about the true effects of torture, survivors are in the best position to advise and to help others, including policy-makers, to understand its full impact. It is a humble honour to be invited into the sacred space of the wounded of another human being, a space often not shared with that person’s own family members. How do we honour our patients at these times of despair as they struggle with the most profound question of their lives? It is by active listening and by holding on to a sense of hope, which at times can feel imperceptible to the survivor. It is also by providing our presence when it is so difficult for our patients to trust another human being. It is by listening with one’s heart and helping to bear the pain, which can be bigger than the words which attempt to describe it. It is by remaining present when hearing about atrocities that are unimaginable. By being open to the existential and spiritual questions that such extreme trauma can raise. The burden of proof is on the asylum seeker to provide evidence and convince the immigration officer that he or she is eligible for asylum or protection. The evidence is mainly the survivor’s testimony. The survivor’s lawyer supports the client throughout the process; such representation is crucial, given that the process can be intimidating and adversarial, in the presence of a judge and a government lawyer whose task is to rebut the survivor’s arguments.
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