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Caring for Survivors of Torture

Refugees, asylees and caregivers share their stories to help professionals and volunteers understand the needs of the more than a million survivors of torture rebuilding lives in the US.

A printer-friendly version of this page 57 minutes
Closed Captioned

Directed by Ben Achtenberg
Produced by Ben Achtenberg
Editor: Ben Achtenberg
Cinematographer, Online Editor: Bruce Petschek
Associate Producer: Roz Dzelzitis
Music: John Kusiak
Editorial Consultants: Ann Carol Grossman, Chi-Ho Lee
A production of The Refuge Media Project

"Powerful...For those interested in the survivors in American communities...this is a 'must see'." Kevin R. Johnson, Dean, UC Davis School of Law
It's estimated that more than a million refugees, asylum-seekers and other immigrants to the United States have been victims of politically motivated torture. They come here from all parts of the world -- some legally, some undocumented, some with families and some very much alone. They live in major American cities and in small towns. Some survivors bear visible scars, but many more have been wounded in ways that remain hidden.

Advocates for torture survivors, dedicated healthcare and social service professionals, and hundreds of citizen volunteers have united to create programs throughout the country that provide care and support to survivors who have come here to make new lives.

This documentary highlights five treatment and support programs in Minneapolis, Atlanta, the Boston Area, and Washington, DC. Based on interviews with dozens of survivors and with the professionals and volunteers who are helping them to heal, this film is a tribute to their courage and dedication, and a call to action.

Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2014     Copyright Date: 2013
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-530-0

"This film gives us the rare opportunity to bear witness to survivors' pain and suffering, and at the same time allows the viewer, through the eyes of the helper providers (psychologists, social workers, etc.) to make sense of these stories. The stories remind us of the power that storytelling has on reducing the 'othering' of survivors of war and torture that they experience on a daily basis as they try to integrate in American culture."
Dr. Marianne Sarkis, Assistant Professor, International Development and Social Change, Clark University

"As a healthcare provider with nearly 20 years of experience caring for refugee patients, I found it very thought provoking. Refuge will be a powerful teaching tool for those helping to train our next generation of healthcare and mental healthcare providers because it speaks in the voice of the refugees as well as in the voice of experienced providers. This is also a great tool to initiate discussion within practices that already serve refugees - to evaluate how they are and are not meeting the needs of these patients. I certainly foresee myself using this film in my own teaching."
Dr. Robin Councilman, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota School of Medicine

"Informative and moving...Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture is not an easy film to watch, but that is what makes it an important film to watch...Level/Use: Suitable for mature high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of violence, political anthropology, psychological anthropology, and various area studies, as well as for general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"As insightful as it was moving. The emotionally wrenching interviews, interspersed with the extraordinarily humane insights of the various counselors and doctors, were absolutely gripping. As horrendous as all the stories by the victims were, the film actually left me feeling uplifted."
Ross Gelbspan, Journalist, Environmentalist, Author

"A great job. REFUGE is a must-have for caretakers throughout the healthcare system, including students entering the field."
Ramsay Liem, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Boston College

"Refuge concisely frames the discussion of torture and its care for the viewer. I found the stories of the survivors to be engaging and informative, and hearing their telling provided a nice perspective on the impact of torture on their lives as well as the challenges presented by migration to the U.S. This film is a compelling depiction of the real impact of torture on the lives of people from around the world."
Paul Geltman, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Medical Director, Refugee and Immigrant Health Program, Massachusetts Dept of Public Health

"Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture is a powerful film...For those interested in the survivors in American communities from Minnesota to Georgia, New York to California, this is a 'must see.' The film will no doubt help lawyers better understand the experiences of clients who are torture survivors."
Kevin R. Johnson, Dean, UC Davis School of Law, Co-Editor, ImmigrationProf Blog, Author, Opening the Floodgates? Why America Needs to Rethink Its Border and Immigration Laws

"This wonderful film offers a unique perspective into the world of torture survivors, their experiences and reservations opening up, and into the world of the care-givers, as they approach the formidable task of helping them recover their dignity and life."
Tessa Moll, Communications Officer, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

"The powerful stories of refugees in the US are a true gift to viewers. This documentary identifies refugee survivors as resilient, empowered, and organized communities rather than victims in need of services. Torture, political violence, and state terrorism's impact on individuals, families, and communities come alive in the stories by survivors, their advocates, and clinicians. Refugees arriving in the country, clinicians, organizers, policy makers, and the public at large are all potential audiences...Despite the horrific stories, this is a 'calm' film; dignity is at the core. A remarkable and useful documentary about remarkable individuals and their allies."
Gonzalo Bacigalupe, Professor of Counseling and School Psychology, Director of the Family Therapy Program, University of Massachusetts-Boston

"A moving look at what survivors like our clients have been through before seeking refuge here, and an introduction to some of the people who welcome and support them. Refuge will be a great resource for orienting staff and volunteers, and for letting our community know what it is we do and why we need to be here to do it."
Curt Goering, Executive Director, Center for Victims of Torture

"Beautifully highlights and humanizes the issues faced by torture survivors and those treating them. We are reminded that a grant of asylum is only one step in a long journey of healing, and our health care system is woefully deficient in identifying victims and providing necessary and proper care."
Christy Fujio, JD, MA, Physicians for Human Rights

"The interviews of medical doctors, psychiatrists, and other health care practitioners in the documentary deepen the understanding of the devastating effects of torture for the victims and their surviving families. This is a must-see film for healthcare providers, social workers, and all who seek a greater awareness of the newcomers who arrive on our shores after having experienced the horrific trauma of torture."
Nestor Rodriguez, Professor of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin, co-author, Guatemala-U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
Includes closed captions. Can be shown in three 20-minute sections leaving time for discussion after each section:
This Is Not a New Story
Torture Takes Place Worldwide
Paths to Recovery

Awards and Festivals
White Sands Film Festival
UNSPOKEN Human Rights Film Festival
American Public Health Association Film Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
Society for the Study of Psychiatry & Culture Film Festival
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Conference
International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma
Psychiatrists for Social Responsibility Conference
New Immigration Conference, Lawrence (MA) History Center

Global Issues
Human Rights
Mental Health
Migration and Refugees
Political Science
Social Work
War and Peace

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Peacock's War
Moving portrait of legendary environmentalist and Vietnam vet, Doug Peacock.

Exposé of the horrifying results of the 1996 immigration law.

Torture Made in USA
Examines the George W. Bush administration's systematic use of torture and questions whether key members could be prosecuted for war crimes.

Torturing Democracy
Tells the inside story of how the U.S. government adopted torture as official policy in the aftermath of 9/11.

... more Reviews

"A beautiful, powerful, and inspiring film."
Scott Wright, Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition

"A moving testimony of the devastating impact of terrible circumstances, and of the blooming of human resilience when skillful support and community building is provided."
Carlos E. Sluzki, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University

"Sober but quietly searing...While this will serve admirably as an introduction for health service professionals, the wider human story it tells can touch a broader audience. Recommended."
F. Swietek, Video Librarian

"A moving testimony to individual courage, conscience, and dedication, as well as a call to action. Highly recommended."
Midwest Book Review

"Paint[s] a complete, accurately reported story about refugees who are tortured."
Brian Shmaefsky, Kingwood College, Science Books and Films

"Subdued and sensitive...The stories are powerful."
Linda Rabben, Anthropology News

"A beautiful, important film. I have found it meaningful and worthwhile each of the several times I have now seen it and shared it with students. Refuge should be purchased by so many organizations, especially schools of social work, but by undergraduate institutions and others as well."
Michele Reimer, MSW, PhD

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