Frequently Asked Questions

Survivors of Torture, International was founded in 1997 as a grassroots nonprofit agency headquartered in the home of one of its three cofounders, Kathi Anderson. The first year of its incorporation, SURVIVORS did not serve clients directly. Instead, the three founders (Kathi Anderson, Bill Radatz and George Falk) spent the year building the organization’s infrastructure so that it would rest on a solid foundation.

They educated themselves on techniques of interviewing and treating torture survivors, researched the size and composition of the San Diego population of torture survivors, expanded the board of directors, developed a mission statement and three-year strategic plan, identified the vision and values of the organization, developed an effective, holistic service delivery model based on resiliency and recovery, established contacts with government on the local and national levels and began seeking financial support. During that year, SURVIVORS was awarded its first grant (and then only source of financial support) for $2,000 from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.

With no paid staff, SURVIVORS managed to treat 53 clients in 1998. Four contracted therapists assisted survivors by providing psychological counseling, preparing affidavits to document the psychological effects of torture, and testifying on clients’ behalf at asylum court hearings. As the only organization in San Diego providing this type of treatment, SURVIVORS was deluged with requests from attorneys and other professionals seeking this support for their clients applying for political asylum.

No, all services are provided free of charge.

Most torture survivors are resilient individuals, many of whom were professionals and leaders in their homelands. Often, individuals are tortured because of their identity (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, etc.) or because they are activists for human rights, women’s rights and other causes. People may be tortured at random if the government or opposition group is trying to create a climate of fear in a population.

“Many, many educated women, innocent people are tortured – for nothing.” – SURVIVORS’ client, a Middle Eastern mother of two.

A client must be a primary or secondary survivor of torture.

Torture is defined under national and international laws. The Torture Victims Relief Act uses the following definition of torture given in section 2340(1) of title 18, United States Code:

  1. “Torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
  2. “Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from
    • The intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    • The administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
  3. The threat of imminent death; or
  4. The threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality

As used in the TVRA, this definition also includes the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence by a person acting under the color of law, upon another person under his custody or physical control.

They are usually referred by immigration attorneys, healthcare institutions, community organizations, or clients who have been treated by SURVIVORS.

They come from more than 80 countries around the world. SURVIVORS has seen many clients from parts of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

An asylum seeker is also a person fleeing persecution, but he or she applies for protection once inside the United States. Individuals can be granted asylum if they can prove a well-founded fear of persecution. After long and difficult journeys from their homes, they arrive at ports of entry like San Francisco via SFO or San Diego via the Mexico border.

With little or no documentation, some of these individuals are immediately deported in a procedure known as expedited removal. Others proceed through a legal process that can take months or years. Many are held in prison during this time. Throughout this process, they are not eligible for government benefits of any kind, and are usually not able to work.

SURVIVORS receives funding from the County of San Diego, the U.S. government, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, foundations, corporations, faith-based organizations, and individuals.

Our logo was designed by Steve Rivera who felt the logo “should symbolize moving beyond trauma, victory over defeat, breaking through to reconnect with humanity and life. As I looked further into trauma I realized that one never gets completely over it, but there is a point when a decision is made to confront what has happened and disarm the fear and hurt. That was the moment I wanted to capture.”
Financial contributions are the most flexible way to provide support because they permit resources to be used for what is most necessary. For more information about donating, visit our Donate page.

SURVIVORS also recruits therapists, doctors, dentists and interpreters as volunteers or on a reduced fee to help clients through their trauma. Other volunteer opportunities are listed on our web site.