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Helping victims of torture, from Minnesota to the world

Supporters in Sierra Leone gather on June 26, the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. (Photo courtesy of CVT)Jaclyn Evert , TC Daily Planet

From counseling torture victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fixing bikes for political refugees in Minneapolis, the Center for Victims of Torture provides healing services that reach around the world.

CVT provides free mental health treatment to victims of politically motivated torture in centers and partnership programs in the United States, Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe, with a specific focus in Africa. CVT is the first organization in the United States and the third worldwide to focus on providing mental health services to victims of torture.

CVT opened in Minneapolis in 1985 with strong support from then-Governor Rudy Perpich. Last year, the Minneapolis center served 243 clients, most of whom were immigrants, refugees, or seeking asylum. Some 85.5 percent of these clients come from countries in Africa.

Torture’s impact in DRC
excerpted from CVT publication
From 1998-2003, a regional war raged in eastern DRC leaving nearly 4 million dead and 1.7 million people displaced. Long after the conflict ended, the atrocities committed against individuals remain with them. Survivors of torture suffer debilitating physical and psychological problems. With appropriate treatment, however, people can heal.

Though many kinds of violent torture were perpetrated in DRC, rape was one of the most devastating. Sexual torture has been used to unimaginable levels of frequency and severity. CVT addresses the needs of the large number of survivors, both male and female. In Pweto, CVT has become the referral destination for counseling for cases of rape. Referrals average almost one per week.

The Center for Victims of Torture works to heal the wounds of torture on individual, their families and their communities and to stop torture worldwide.
CVT is based in Minnesota with offices in Washington, DC, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Jordan.
717 E. River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55455 Telephone (612) 436-4800 or 1-877-265-8775 email cvt@cvt.org

Erin Morgan, CVT’s International Programs Clinical Consultant, travels to Africa twice a year to develop training programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to provide counseling to clients. She reports that at least half of the population in the DRC have been victims or witnesses of various types of torture including rape (either by soldiers or forcing one family member to rape another family member), forced labor, beatings, being forced to watch a family member killed, and burning of houses with or without people inside.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” Morgan says, “It’s humbling in a literal sense. You arrive and just begin to start absorbing the depth and the breadth of the need.”

Pam Kriege Santoso, manager of CVT’s International Capacity Building Project in Minneapolis, also makes yearly trips to develop counseling resources and programs in CVT centers and sister organizations in regions of East Africa.

“A lot of what we do, in addition to training programs, is through local grants. We meet with these organizations to develop training plans and then we give them grants to implement some of that plan. We provide funding for staff to make sure they don’t lose that capacity.”

Bicycles for CVTVolunteer Cynthia McArthur has been with CVT in Minneapolis for fifteen years, finding and fixing donated bikes for clients. She shared the experience of an asylum seeker who was jailed for twelve years while his country was under the rule of a dictatorship. (The country cannot be named to ensure the client’s safety and confidentiality.)

“There was this man who was here from ___. He told the social worker in his own words, ‘I can ride north and south, east and west, for as long as I want. And when I get tired, I can lay down in the grass and look at the sky.’ And I just sort of got goosebumps and it was like, ‘Wow, now I know why I do this.’ It’s so poetic and so poignant given his situation, but isn’t what it is for all of us? This is why I love volunteering for this organization, and why I love bikes.”

Interested in donating a bike to CVT? Contact Cynthia McArthur at cmcarthur51@gmail.com

In 2008, CVT was awarded grant for about two million dollars by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) to support increased operations in Africa. The objective of the grant is to improve resources and capacity for counseling programs for long-term healing of victims in partner rehabilitation centers. Two-thirds of the grant specifically funds CVT operations in the DRC.

The grant ensures that for the next three years, CVT and its partner organizations can not only provide sustainable support to clients who are in need of long term treatment, but will also keep these centers staffed and operating.

“It’s so critical in this line of work to do everything you can to secure funding for multiple years,” Morgan says, “It is very difficult for a community to say, ‘Yeah, come on in! Crack everything wide open and we’ll spill our secrets! Oh, you have to go in September?’ You know? That’s not easy for anybody, so it’s important that this not be flash in the pan work.”

Jaclyn Evert is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota.

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One thought on “Helping victims of torture, from Minnesota to the world

  1. Pingback: “Putting the Soul back in the Body” – The Center for Victims of Torture | YOUTH-LEADER MAGAZINE

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