CVT Clients, Too | The Center for Victims of Torture

CVT Clients, Too

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The #MeToo movement captured U.S. news headlines and launched widespread social change as professional women across industries stepped up to disclose sexual assault and harassment and said No More. In an organization that extends rehabilitative care to survivors of torture, CVT staff and clients are sadly all too familiar with issues of sexual violence. We have been listening for years: CVT stands with all our clients who would say Me, Too.

“Clinicians effectively work under the assumption that many clients have suffered some version of sexual assault, humiliation or serious threat thereof,” says Andrea Northwood, Ph.D., LP, CVT’s director of client services. “To be imprisoned or detained for political reasons in most of the countries where our clients lived means being under implicit threat of sexual violation. In addition, torture is used to destroy a person’s identity, and because our sexuality is a deep part of who we are, torturers often use sexual assault in order to achieve their aim.”

Rape is used by tyrannical regimes as a weapon of war, a horrific method of humiliating and wounding individuals and controlling communities. CVT clinicians describe what several clients experience as sexual torture. This involves being illegally detained by state or government officials, sometimes for months, and enduring sexual assault - often repeatedly - to serve a larger political goal. Afterward, many clients are hesitant to report what they’ve experienced. 

“Some topics are not easily discussed,” states Jepkemoi Kibet, physiotherapist/trainer with CVT Nairobi. ”Cultural issues and social stigma often silence the victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and keep them from asking for the help they need.” Clients are often not comfortable disclosing the sexual violence they’ve survived until they’ve been to multiple counseling sessions over several weeks.

Edna Gicovi, psychosocial counselor, CVT Nairobi, observes this firsthand. When her client Rosa* began group counseling sessions for teenage girls, she refused to talk about her experiences, and was uncertain she ever could. “Most girls in the group struggled with low self-worth,” Edna explained. “Given that identity and self-image is an issue that most girls in this age bracket struggle with, I think it is important to find a way to address this, as some traumatic experiences like rape may also contribute in significantly lowering one’s self-image.”

As the group sessions continued, Rosa and the other participants grew more comfortable and began to share their stories. Many additional CVT clients were brave enough to do the same:

  • Dina - Dina was only a teenager when she was abducted by militia in Congo and forced to live with them. The camp leader singled Dina out to be his wife and locked her away from the others. Sometimes he would beat her if she refused his advances and threaten to shoot her. She feared he would kill her, especially when he realized she was pregnant. So she ran away.


  • Sabeen - “I was savagely beaten and repeatedly raped,” says Sabeen, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee and torture survivor. She was kidnapped along with her brother and cousin by armed men. During captivity, she was forced to watch as they were beaten and murdered. 


  • Esme - While in custody, Esme was raped and beaten multiple times. After she fled to the U.S., Esme was separated from seven of her children. At first, she was not able to talk during her therapy sessions; she could only cry and was barely able to function. 


  • Manal - Manal was imprisoned in Syria after she quit her job as a nurse. She was held for days in a makeshift prison and heard others cry out while raped and tortured. Her interrogators told her that she had to choose the number of men who would rape her. One was not an option.


  • Yasser and Khadija – Regime soldiers invaded Yasser and Khadija's home in Syria. They sexually assaulted Khadija, destroyed everything in the house and humiliated Yasser, who is in a wheelchair.

The effects of rape, SGBV, sexual assault and torture are deep and long-lasting, but each of these survivors embarked on a transformative healing journey that allowed them to begin rebuilding their lives. Being able to tell their stories helps so many of our clients not only heal their wounds but begin to feel a sense of promise for their futures and the futures of their families.

There is hope for CVT clients who would say #MeToo.


By Sabrina Crews, marketing communications specialist

*Name has been changed for security and confidentiality.



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