Torture Survivors and Asylum: Legal, Medical, and Psychological Perspectives

Published:November 08, 2022DOI:


      Torture occurs worldwide. Survivors seeking asylum are detained and must complete a complicated legal process to prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” if returned to their home countries. Forensic evaluations guided by the United Nations Istanbul Protocol increase asylum grant rates. Medical evaluation emphasizes skin examination, which can provide strong evidence of torture. Female genital mutilation and cutting, a basis for asylum, is classified according to the World Health Organization. Many resettled refugees and foreign-born immigrants at urban health care facilities have been tortured, but few report it to physicians due to factors affecting both survivors and physicians. Specific torture methods can cause characteristic long-term sequelae. Painful somatic disorders of mind-body interaction and psychological disorders are common. Practices derived from cultural factors and traumatized individuals’ feedback enhance management of survivors. Individual and group psychotherapy provide modest proven benefit, but assessment is limited. Physicians and psychotherapists should coordinate care.


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