Testimony

Statement by
Wade F. Horn, Ph.D.
Assistant Secretary for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
on
Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1988
before
Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on Africa,
Global Human Rights, and International Operations
U.S. House of Representatives

June 23, 2005

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share with you information on the Administration for Children and Families’ efforts to implement the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998. The Administration supports reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act currently authorized through September 30, 2005.

The Torture Victims Relief Act addresses a major problem – the infliction of torture by foreign governments, and the consequences of that torture, on victims now living in the United States. It has been estimated that over 400,000 victims of torture by foreign governments now reside in the United States. These victims have suffered atrocities such as brutal beatings, electric shock, sexual assault and rape, and severe burns. The mental and physical harm that these torture survivors have endured impairs their ability to fully participate in the economic and social opportunities offered by this country.

Prior to the Torture Victims Relief Act, the types of specialized treatment needed by victims of torture had been available in only a few specialized centers. The need for treatment for the many victims of torture living throughout this country far exceeded available facilities. Many service providers were unaware of the special needs of this population so that, even when victims of torture sought services, appropriate treatment that addressed the issue of torture was not being provided.

The Torture Victims Relief Act met this critical need through funding that allowed the expansion and development of the kinds of programs needed to assist these victims to overcome the effects of the torture they have suffered and to live satisfying and productive lives in this country.

The Torture Victims Relief Act is particularly notable both for providing critically needed services and for assisting providers in making available the best possible help. The Act recognizes that torture survivors require a range of services, including rehabilitative treatment, social services, and legal assistance, tailored to the particular needs of each victim of torture. The experience of torture affects different people differently, and the combination of services that is relevant to the victim of torture varies from one individual to the next.

The Torture Victims Relief Act also is notable for its recognition of the need for research and for training of service providers outside of the treatment centers that focus on torture. The treatment of victims of torture is a new and very complex field. Torture affects many areas of a person’s life, beyond the physical effects. Research into best practices is critical to ensuring that torture survivors receive the care that they need. Victims of torture live throughout this country, and training and technical assistance to health care providers outside of treatment centers in appropriate services for victims of torture helps to ensure that there will be knowledgeable providers wherever victims of torture are living.

The Administration for Children and Families implemented the Torture Victims Relief Act by focusing on funding organizations that provide direct services, including rehabilitative, social and legal services to victims of torture. The Administration for Children and Families also has funded one organization to provide technical assistance to organizations that serve persons who have been tortured.

In FY 2000, (the first year for which funds were appropriated to implement the Torture Victims Relief Act), the Administration for Children and Families awarded four-year grants to 17 organizations. Of these organizations, 15 provided services to victims of torture; one organization pursued legal issues involved with prosecuting torture perpetrators; and one of these grants was awarded to the Center for Victims of Torture in Minnesota for the provision of technical assistance to other service providers.

The following year, in FY 2001, the Administration for Children and Families awarded three-year grants to another 9 organizations around the country to provide direct services to victims of torture.

Most recently, in FY 2004, ACF awarded grants to 26 organizations to provide direct services. And one grant was awarded again to the Center for Victims of Torture to continue to provide technical assistance to other service providers who assist victims of torture.

Agencies funded through the Services for Victims of Torture program have provided a combination of mental health, medical, legal, and case management services. Mental health services have consisted of diagnostic evaluation, psychotherapy and counseling, pharmacological intervention, and group therapy. Medical services have included diagnostic evaluation, treatment for head injuries and other trauma, and other kinds of medical assistance. Legal services have included legal evaluation and assistance with immigration status. Other services have included assistance with housing, employment services, transportation assistance, English as a Second Language, and translation and interpretation services.

The 26 organizations currently funded under this program are located in 17 States. The States are: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

At the end of FY 2004, the organizations that had originally been awarded grants in FY 2000 and FY 2001 reported that they had provided services to approximately 6,600 victims of torture. These grantees reported that, of the victims of torture served, 3,922 received mental health services, 2,753 victims of torture received medical services, 2,649 were provided legal assistance, and 4,399 received other kinds of social services. These services have been provided directly by grantees or their partner agencies or have been provided through referral to other organizations.

An important component of this program has been the provision of technical assistance through the Center for Victims of Torture. This organization also maintains a clinic through which direct services are provided to victims of torture.

During the four-year period that ended on September 29, 2004, the Center for Victims of Torture provided technical assistance to thirty-seven organizations that serve victims of torture. Of these organizations, 25 had received grants through the Victims of Torture program; 5 organizations had received funding as sub-grantees; and 7 organizations that serve victims of torture without a direct grant from the program received technical assistance from the Center for Victims of Torture.

The main goal of the technical assistance grant to the Center for Victims of Torture has been to expand and enhance treatment facilities for victims of torture living in the United States. The Center for Victims of Torture has provided knowledge and innovative expertise to treatment facilities in the areas of clinical service, organizational structure, data collection, and technology through on-site consultations, individual program assessments, and technical assistance plans.

The Center for Victims of Torture also has conducted a series of mini-institutes. Over the four-year grant period that ended in September 2004, 518 participants took part in these mini-institutes. The institutes covered such topics as clinical methods, clinical and administrative leadership, and report writing.

The technical assistance provided by the Center for Victims of Torture has been vital to the Services for Victims of Torture program both in ensuring that all organizations that receive funding are providing the most up-date services and in ensuring that other service providers who work with victims of torture have access to the same information on best practices in working with this population.

In conclusion, this program allows organizations that serve victims of torture vital funding to reach out to survivors of torture and provide the assistance they need in order to participate fully in their new lives in this country. I would like to thank the Subcommittee for its commitment to assisting victims of torture. I look forward to working with you on the reauthorization of this critical legislation, the Torture Victims Relief Act.

Last Revised: June 22, 2005