Torture “Without Scars”—Acknowledging this Whether State or Non-State Torture!

By Jeanne Sarson | Nov 1, 2012

Recently I received a message from the Center for Victims of Torture. They created Torture “Without Scars”, an educational tool with dramatization videos of State torture accompanied by the statement that the images “can be disturbing, as are the descriptions of torture. But torture is ugly, and it’s time to demand the truth.”

The voices of persons who had been so tortured described how they—their mind, body and spirit—responded to cope and survive the brutality of being tortured and dehumanized by State actors. Listening to them was and is like listening to those who have shared with Linda and I their ordeals of torture perpetrated against them by private individuals or non-state actors—their parents, other family members, guardians, spouses, pornographers, traffickers, organized pedophile rings and criminal gangs for example. Some of these parental and spousal torturers also trafficked their spouse or their child(ren). Pedophilic-perpetrators pay to gain access to children who were/are conditioned to withstand torturing. One woman so victimized said that since toddlerhood she was “rented out” or “trafficked for torturing.” She thought that being rented out was normal. She believed she had to “do good” at withstanding the torture in her efforts to make her parents—the torturers—happy.  She remembers her father saying to the pedophilic perpetrators, “Bring her back when you’re done.”

Dramatizations and Drawings

I thank the Center for Victims of Torture for sharing their material. It is useful because it (a) helps to validate the similarity between the acts of torture perpetrated by State torturers and those perpetrated by  non-state torturers, (b) it helps explain how the responses of persons tortured by private individuals or non-state actors are comparable to the responses of persons tortured by State actors, and (c) provides the opportunity to show a few drawings that illustrate the acts of non-state torture that  victimized women and girls, and some men and transgendered persons, have been describing to Linda and me for almost 20 years. Their torture-art shows very dramatically how equally horrific their victimization was/is, just as described in the Center’s dramatization videos. It is time to demand and respect that those who have been trying to get the world to listen are speaking the truth just as the survivors in Torture “Without Scars” are speaking their truths.

“Torture is ugly, and it’s time to demand the truth.”

You can listen to the videos. A man, for instance, describes that his wrists and hands went numb from being hung. When confined in darkness he explained how he experienced him-Self as dead—that he no longer felt he existed. These are the same responses that persons who have been similarly tortured by non-state actors describe. They speak of being hung and how their wrists and hands and arms went numb. They speak of the spontaneous perceptual shift in their sense of physicality—of experiencing them-Selves as not existing, of being without a body, or without skin. They speak of feeling non-human. This is what torturers do—they intentionally and purposely dehumanize those they decide to torture. 

For decades, persons who have suffered torture by non-state actors live with these torture victimization body memory responses especially if never given the opportunity to be heard and have access to non-state torture informed caring. Instead, Linda and I are told that when they tried to tell they were not listened to. They were disbelieved. They were told they were lying. They were labelled crazy or mentally ill, given a mental illness label, medicated, and dismissed without respect for their human dignity. Adding to these harms were stories of how they were also victimized by the caregivers they sought for help—they were raped, drugged, stalked, or tortured.

Non-State Torture “Without Scars”

I create, “Non-State Torture “Without Scars” to show that torturers, whether State or non-state, intentionally inflict some acts of torture that leave no visible torture scars. But if torture injuries are visible their MO is to keep the person they tortured away from public scrutiny until the physical harms have faded or can be hidden with clothing. For example, the parental-torturer will keep a child imprisoned at home from school claiming she is ill; a prison guard will keep the tortured prisoner isolated from visitors.

Non-State Torture “Without Scars” is equally as disturbing as the educational tool presented by the Center for Victims of Torture. It speaks the truth about the ugliness of the private individuals or non-state torturers and the acts of torture they intentionally and purposely inflict. They do so, for example, just as State torturers do, to gain a so-called confession. For instance, a spousal-torturer will ‘cross-examine’ their partner to demand if they spoke to anyone when they went to pay the bills; parent-torturers will ‘cross-examine’ their little girl to ensure she has not told anyone about “what happens in the family”. But this so-called cross-examination is just the beginning of the verbal and emotional torture that comes when being screamed at that they are “a nobody”, “a slut” and “a cunt”. Screamed at and told they are lying and deserve what happens next. That it is their fault that they, for example, are taken into the basement and hung upside down, beaten, cut and raped.  The truth is that the ‘failed’ cross-examination is just a rouse that lets the torturers progress to satisfying their pleasures for brutal domination over another human being. It satisfies their pleasure that comes from seeing the terrorization appear in the eyes and spirit of the little girl or woman. It’s the pleasure of expressing power and control by holding her in an on-going state of captivity and enslavement. It’s the pleasure derived from near-death tub-drowning followed by the raping of her dead-like body—it’s necrophilic pleasures. So, with this last comment I will do as the Center for Victims of Torture did. They used dramatizations to educate about the brutal acts inflicted by State torturers against prisoners; in comparison, I share a few visuals—two drawings and a photo—to expose the brutal torture ordeals suffered by those held in the ‘prison cells’ of their homes. These are:


Tub-drowning.[1] Non-state torturers inflict water-tortures or near-drowning torture repeatedly. Over the course, for instance, of 20 years of home-imprisonment a little girl grows into womanhood living through thousands of near-fatal water torture ordeals. Without informed caring to assist her in her healing she may never be able to cope with being in a tub and having water on her face.


Electric shocking.[2] Car batteries and wires, electric-shocking cattle prods, and electrical outlets for example, all transform into homemade torture tools that give torturers their pleasures of watching the helplessness suffered by the woman or toddler they shock. Each time the cables and battery come out the victimized child or woman responds in panic, is emotionally terrorized, and may spontaneously dissociate to survive. If she manages to escape her imprisonment she may never be comfortable sleeping in a bed with an electrical outlet on the wall at the head of the bed.  


Psychological torture and Self-harming torture conditioning. Like State torturers, non-state torturers use tools that are easily accessible to them. The home-prison cell is full of these tools, such as knives and cigarette lighters used to inflict cuts and burns. The torturers may even force the woman they torture to carry a lighter or knife in her purse to constantly remind her to Self-harm if she tries to tell. This is a form of psychological torture—the conditioning to Self-harm and be silenced. This was Sara’s reality. This is a photo of the lighter and knife she was torture-conditioned to carry and to use against her-Self to block her ability to tell.[3] Women even explain how they were ‘taught’ or conditioned to Self-burn or Self-cut when they were children. They were also forced to Self-cut, for example, when the torturers demanded them to do so. This was to satisfy the torturers’ blood-seeking pleasures. To cover-up the physical harms such torturers inflict they lock the little girl in her bedroom, reporting to the school that she is sick. For a woman so tortured she is forcedly isolated at home. When let out they will wear clothes to hide the scars or have been groomed to explain their injuries as accidents.  

These images and explanations are minute educational insights into the meaning of “Non-State Torture “Without Scars”.  Water tortures and electric shocking tortures do not leave physical scars. Nor do the psychological tortures of Self-harming conditioning leave physical scars. But the cutting and burning do leave scars. Because non-state torturers have control over those they torture they hold them in a state of on-going captivity until such inflicted torture injuries do not present a serious risk of exposure.

And the point is?

The point is this ‘non-state torture without scars’ blog delivers the educational message that acts of non-state torture do not necessarily leave visible physical scars just like the message delivered by the Center for Victims of Torture which said that State torturing does not necessarily leave physical scars.

The point is that all torturers, whether non-state or State, must be held criminally responsible for the acts of torture they inflict.   

The point is that it is time to listen and to believe those who have survived and suffered non-state torture victimization just as we listen to persons who have survived torture inflicted by State actors.

The point is we must care for persons who have survived non-state torture victimization and traumatisation from a relational perspective—respectful that their relationship with/to/for Self was vitally harmed or ‘fractured’ and understanding that their responses are survival coping responses relating to having been subjected to torture. They are persons first and foremost—they are persons who have suffered a violation of their human rights.


[1] Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L. (2008). Ritual Abuse-Torture Within Families/GroupsJournal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 16(4), 419–438. For an abstract of this paper see Women's UN Report Network (WUNRN) abuse-torture
[2] Sarson, J. & MacDonald, L.(2005). Ritual abuse/torture: Identifying a crime of horrorGazette, 67(1), 32-33. In French, La violence et la torture rituelles.
[3] Linda and I took this photo with Sara’s consent.


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