Torture can take many forms. It may be physical or psychological. It may consist of beatings, electric shock, sexual abuse, solitary detention, mock executions, sensory deprivations, being forced to witness others being tortured or killed, and detention in harsh and inhumane conditions. Torture has no political, religious, cultural, gender, class or age boundaries. Children, women and men are all targets.
Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Torture is not merely used to extract information from an unwilling person. The ultimate goal of torture and organised violence is to institute and reinforce social and political control. This is achieved by attempting to destroy the capacity of the tortured person to function normally and to sustain control over his or her life.
Torture has an impact on the individual, the family and the community.
Refugees and other survivors of torture experience the impact of torture in many different ways. It has a profound, immediate and long-term impact on physical and psychological health.
A high percentage of torture and trauma survivors suffer from extreme levels of depression and anxiety, which manifest in many ways. These can include sleep disorders, recurring and intrusive memories, poor self-esteem, difficulty in concentrating, sadness, fear, anger, psychosomatic complaints, and breakdown in family and personal relationships.
Since the end of World War II, survivors of torture and trauma have migrated to Australia through the refugee, humanitarian and general immigration programs, fleeing conflicts in the Asia Pacific region, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Between 1951 and 2006 more than 675,000 refugee and humanitarian program entrants, including their families, have settled in Australia.