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Gender Considerations

Ideally, an investigation team should contain specialists of both genders, permitting the person who says that they have been tortured to choose the gender of the investigator and, where necessary, the interpreter. This is particularly important when a woman has been detained in a situation where rape is known to happen, even if she has not, so far, complained of it. Even if no sexual assault takes place, most torture has sexual aspects. The re-traumatisation can often be worse if she feels she has to describe what happened to a person who is physically similar to her torturers, who will inevitably have been mostly or entirely men. In some cultures, it would be impossible for a male investigator to question a female victim, and this must be respected. However, in most cultures, if there is only a male physician available, many women would prefer to talk to him rather than a female of another profession in order to gain the medical information and advice that she wants. In such a case, it is essential that the interpreter, if used, be female. Some interviewees may also prefer that the interpreter be from outside their immediate locality, both because of the danger of being reminded of their torture and because of the perceived threat to their confidentiality. If no interpreter is necessary, then a female member of the investigating team should be present as a chaperone throughout at least the physical examination and, if the patient wishes, throughout the entire interview.

When the individual is male and has been sexually abused, the situation is more complex because he too will have been sexually abused mostly or entirely by men. Some men would, therefore, prefer to describe their experiences to women because their fear of other men is so great, while others would not want to discuss such personal matters in front of a woman.