The potential effects of torture include cumulative traumatic experiences on individual, family and community levels.
On the individual level
Torture is a dynamic process that begins at the moment of losing liberty, and involves a sequence of traumatic events that may take place at different times and places, ending with the release or demise of the victim. Sometimes this cascade of events may start again within a short time-frame, without leaving any time for the individual to recover. The person experiences complete lack of control, inability to escape, and is also challenged by the unpredictability of the torturer.
Generally torture has an extremely threatening and painful character, and can induce immediate reactions of panic and fear, including significant fear of death, with a very high level of tension and, sometimes subsequently, of emotional numbness. These feelings may be accompanied by a sense of complete confusion, powerlessness, and loss of control which can bring about a shattered understanding of one’s self, of any meaningful existential system and of the predictability of the world. Torture can damage individuals on a number of levels:
- physical and psychological integrity and entity,
- cognitive, emotional, behavioural, social well-being,
- self-respect or self-esteem ,
- sense of safety and survival,
- dreams, hopes, aspirations for the future,
- belief system,
- system of meaning about him/herself and the world,
- connectedness, and
The aim of torture is often not only the intentional destruction of the victim, but of his or her economic, social, and cultural worlds of the victims. Torture also may profoundly affect an individual’s sense of being grounded in a family and in society. It may also cause secondary problems which compromise social, educational and occupational functioning.
On the family level
Torture can profoundly damage intimate relationships between spouses, parents, children and other family members, and relationships between the victims and their communities. Such trauma can lead to various forms of family dysfunction and disruptions including:
- Other members of the family may also be detained, tortured and ill treated.
- Other members of the family may suffer from the secondary traumatisation.
- The repercussions of the physical and psychological suffering of the tortured person within the family can cause an increased level of stress as well as fear, worry, feelings of being terrorised and threatened, and loss of sense of safety and security, affecting the family system and the other members of the family.
- Torture may change the roles and relationship patterns in the family; it may result in deterioration in the ability to care for children and loved ones, and in parenting capacity.
- Torture experiences may also cause substantial disruption of the quality of life in the family due to health problems, forced change of living place, loss of work and diminished social support.