Common Effects of Torture
I’m going to start with an important and underappreciated point: the effects of torture are hard to research.
For a mixture of reasons, including shame and fear of reprisals, many people are uncomfortable admitting that they were tortured. Fewer still have the opportunity or are willing to participate in research. Sample sizes in studies are often ridiculously small, so small that it can be difficult to reach any conclusions.
On top of that, picking a control group can be difficult. If the majority of torture victims are depressed does comparing them to a health or depressed population make more sense? If the majority of torture victims suffered serious head injuries should they be compared to people with mild brain damage?
The research is hard. We’re only just beginning to get a clear picture of the short and long term effects of torture, on individuals and communities. Sometimes clear evidence just isn’t there.
Sometimes, for some techniques, it is. So long as you don’t call it ‘torture’. Information on sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, starvation, dehydration and extreme temperatures are all available.
What this means is that treatment is often a hit and miss affair. Studies trying to find better ways to treat torture victims often can’t find enough volunteers to get meaningful results.
All of that said, here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the things a character who has survived torture and physically healed might experience.
Persistent memory problems
Difficulty learning new skills
Difficulty relating to others
Long term Personality Change
Much of the research on treating torture survivors focuses on PTSD which appears to be a more common response for torture than for other traumatising events.
It’s worth mentioning that although clear evidence on torturers is even more difficult to come by there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that torturers are often traumatised by carrying out torture.
Anecdotal evidence suggests torturers develop many of the same psychological symptoms as their victims, including PTSD, depression, addiction, social isolation and long term personality changes.
[Sources, ‘Mental health interventions and priorities for research for adult survivors of torture and systematic violence: a review of the literature’ Torture Journal vol 26 iss 1 2016 W M Weiss et al
‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ Harvard University Press S O’Mara
‘Dysfunctional Pain Modulation in Torture Survivors: The Mediating Effect of PTSD’ The Journal of Pain vo 18 2017 R Defrin et al
‘Testimonial Therapy: Impact on social participation and emotional wellbeing among Indian survivors of torture and organized violence’ Torture Journal vol 25 iss 2 2015 M M Jorgensen et al]