Electric shocks have been used commonly by torturers for many years because they cause exquisite pain but rarely leave identifiable physical signs. The equipment can be as basic as the magneto of an old military field telephone or a couple of bare wires in an electrical socket to complex stun guns.
Magnetos (generators) are generally hand-cranked devices that provide a direct current (DC) related to the speed at which a rotor is turned – giving an opportunity to threaten the victim further. Main electrical currents can be delivered through bare wires touched against the skin, which might have been previously covered in water. Clips are sometimes used, and these can cause small lacerations when they pull off as the victim jolts with the force of the current. Some torturers have used fixed systems using switches or levers which again can be used to increase the threat of the torture.
Battery operated devices are portable but can still deliver a high voltage which may be alternating current (AC) or DC. Electric shock batons are being superseded by a range of devices including stun shields, remote control stun belts, and tasers, many of which were originally designed for law-enforcement purposes.
Electrical torture uses the property of the electrical current to cause pain: in the body the current travels along nerves and blood vessels as they are the paths of lower resistance. As the current travels, it causes contractions to the muscles involved and severe pain. These contractions can cause dislocation of joints and, if the chest muscles are involved, difficulties in breathing. If the current passes through the heart, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) can develop, leading to sudden death. Torturers apply electricity to the most vulnerable and intimate parts of the body. Genitals and breasts are often targeted and the victim is threatened on his or her reproductive capacity. When the current involves the muscles controlling urination and defecation those can occur without the victim being able to exercise control. The mouth also is very sensitive and often targeted.
Areas of reddening may persist for weeks. Occasionally the electrodes can leave small burns, probably from sparking. Both tend to be circular and less than 0.5 cm in diameter. These lesions may create hyperpigmentation. However, as these lesions are small, they may be difficult to find. Although non-specific, they can corroborate allegations of electric shock torture, especially if they are in certain parts of the body. Studies have shown distinctive changes to cells beneath the site of the shock on microscopy, but such investigations should only be performed if they are essential to the legal case.