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Reader, you have already demonstrated moral courage by choosing to read this groundbreaking book, Women Unsilenced Our Refusal To Let Torturer-Traffickers Win, by Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald. Now, please choose to be open to the knowledge the authors have brought into the light. After reading the first chapter, I was reminded of the alert one sees above certain news clips and films: « Viewer discretion advised » erected for our « protection », to « warn » us of information we may not want to receive because we may find it disturbing. After the warning, we have a choice to make. In that moment, we choose what we let into our minds and our hearts and, if we choose to access the knowledge, however troubling, we then must decide if we are going to take any action on that knowledge. This is what we must do with this book: find the moral courage to pay attention to what Jeanne and Linda have recorded and researched; then draw upon that courage to face the implications that what is in this book is not fiction – nor is it information from which we can justly turn away.

I first met Jeanne and Linda at a UN meeting over 15 years ago, where I observed the impact they were having on their listeners. Their powerful narrative threw me back to hearing testimony from a patient in an inquiry I had chaired in 1991 on the sexual abuse of patients by medical doctors. I listened with shock – and to be honest with you – some disbelief – as my colleagues and I on the independent task force (commissioned by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario) were told of ritualistic sexual abuse by a group in the basement of a church hall in a small town, near to where our hearing was being held that evening. The patient was clear: their doctor was an active participant in the group assault; indeed he was instrumental in getting the patient into that basement. When the hearing adjourned, I sought my task force colleague, Dr. Harvey Armstrong, an acclaimed psychiatrist who had many patients who came to him because he was known as a skilled and compassionate therapist for people who had experienced a wide range of abuse and violations in their lives. I was deeply shaken by the patient’s testimony and even more shaken when Dr. Armstrong put that night’s testimony into context. What we had heard was longstanding, widespread and woven into entrenched networks of « torturer-traffickers » often cloaked in social positions of credibility and authority in their communities – as detailed by Jeanne and Linda at that UN session, and now in their much more comprehensive book. I also need to tell you that the testimony I heard thirty years ago was certainly not the only one brought to my attention in the past decades.

I have been tempted to shelter behind « Viewer discretion advised »; I didn’t want to believe this degree and frequency of organized evil operates with impunity, for the most part, in my country, or that the Criminal Code of Canada has been largely ineffective. But I know it is imperative to believe in the dignity and voices of humans, mostly women and girls, who have endured non-State torture (NST), who have been silenced by inadequacies – and sometimes complicity – in our systems of law, health and education. I know what Jeanne and Linda risked – professionally and personally – to care so deeply and bravely, to deliver hope and healing as allies with the women we meet in this book. Through 28 plus years of creating space for women and girls who have endured NST, Jeanne and Linda continue to call upon UN treaties and our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to fight for them and their human rights.

So, what can we, the readers, do?

We have already taken the first crucial step: exercising our discretion in reading this book. Discretion has been defined as: individual choice or judgment; the power of free decision or latitude of choice within certain legal bounds; the quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment; the ability to make responsible decisions. Let us now use our power of discretion to choose a paradigm shift for examining this specific form of violence against women and girls – non-State torture – as a grievous human rights violation that our laws must be changed to address effectively.

Senator Marilou McPhedran
Parliament of Canada
February 2021

Table of Contents

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More praise for Women Unsilenced

This book fills me with pride because I know the authors. They saved my life and now I want to live.”
—Sara

Your beautiful wisdom and expertise in witnessing and supporting me through telling over the years about the organised torture and trafficking crimes I endured in my childhood by perpetrators in my family and in the wider community has set me free!”
—Elizabeth Gordon, artist, activist, and survivor

Their conviction to bring awareness about NST and reasons why it should be a criminal offense continues to make me believe that I am worth fighting for and that it is my torturers who should be held accountable, not me.”
—Alex Lane

As a survivor of torture, I have been fortunate to have worked with you both, and my life has been enriched by your great kindness, strength, and humor.”
—Jeanette Westbrook, MSSW, Survivor

The testimonials provide a compelling, powerful and honest portrayal of the brutality and humiliation experienced by victims of NST.”
—Megan Walker, Exec. Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Through their work over decades, the authors of this publication give life and meaning, in a substantive way, to the work on the feminisation of torture, whether perpetrated by state or non-state actors."
—Prof. Rashida Manjoo, University of Cape Town and Former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

Women Unsilenced is not only timely, but it is a necessary read for anyone who values fundamental human rights, particularly as these rights pertain to a subject area that few are willing or able even to acknowledge exists. In addition to Sarson and Macdonald offering insight into a subject area (i.e., non-State torture – NST… not to be conflated with assault) that has been suppressed-ignored for too long, the authors propose clear pathways by which we might finally be able to begin to eradicate NST. Having listened to the ‘silence’ for twenty-plus years and drawing on their rich ‘kitchen-table research,’ the authors have much to say and offer. And there is much we can learn when reading the book. 
—John Winterdyk – Professor of Criminology, Mount Royal University, Calgary, AB.

If the stories in Women Unsilenced can't convince you that sexual violence at the hands of family and intimate partners is torture, nothing else will. The tales of mental and physical violence experienced by the Canadian women profiled in this book hit as hard as any story of state violence from Ravensbrück, Democratic Kampuchea, the former Yugoslavia, Syria, or anywhere else for that matter.
—David L. Richards, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

Women Unsilenced is a phenomenal book and extremely well written.  The authors tell of their ground breaking work with women tortured by family members, people intimately connected to them.  We follow their journey – that of the tortured woman and of nurses as they work towards healing.  Non-state torture is real and exists in our society.  Understanding non-state torture is the first step to stopping it. Recognising it will help unsilence the women so that they have the courage to speak out.
Non-state torture is not recognised as a separate crime while torture by a state agent such as police officer or soldier is recognised as a crime. Legally, torture is different to the components of torture such as assault, threatening, child abuse and sexual assault.   Torture is prolonged, can control a child or woman for years, can affect her ability to make her own decisions, can rob her of hope and of the future. It has a profound effect on women.
For anyone interesting in addressing the wrongs in our society and speaking out for women, read this book.
Janneke Lewis lawyer, advocate against human trafficking

 

Although I am not a torture survivor myself, as a therapist and activist before I encountered Persons Against Non-State Torture, I didn’t have this word to use for what I’ve been listening to. And that was also an experience of feeling that I could not voice what was actually going on and that my work was invisible, a certain sense of powerlessness when there are no words. So I think in a secondary way these words “torture” and “non-State torture” are also extremely important for the well-being and sustainability of those of us who are supporting tortured people.
I know you know this all so well already but I just want to affirm again it’s also extremely important politically because in any campaign of political oppression, authoritarians will use torture. And that is what women are facing on a global scale: authoritarian oppression on the basis of sex class and one of the ways is through torture and prostitution.
So the world must start talking about it much more and aiming at it directly.
Immense appreciation for all your work Jeanne and Linda!!!!!
—Pam Rubin therapist and activist

Jeanne and Linda uncovered a side of family life that most would like to pretend doesn’t exist. They worked tirelessly to create Non-State Torture language that empowers and gives agency to survivors. More than that, they have made it possible for advocates to demand Canada acknowledge NST as a crime of torture within the Canadian Criminal Code and opened the door for everyone, including police, lawyers, judges, and mental health workers, to have the means to provide caring services to NST survivors.
—Doreen Nicol, Social Justice and Human Rights writer

This is an excellent example of feminist scholarship.  Sarson and MacDonald share their experience of healing women who have been sexually tortured by their families and others.  The authors include their personal journey of dealing with this human evil which jarred their psyches as it is likely to do to the reader of this book.  As nurse practitioners they had hardly any medical or legal guidance to help them, so they developed their own sound scientific theory and practice for the previously unrecognized phenomena of non-state torture. They ground their theory in human rights and validated it at UN meetings, meanwhile educating the UN special rapporteur on torture and the rest of us about this all to hidden phenomenon.  They make recommendations not only for treating survivors but also creating the necessary laws to punish perpetrators. To read this book is to be in the presence of wise women.
—Sarita Cargas, Associate Professor of Human Rights, University of New Mexico

Women Unsilenced is a ground-breaking book that will change the way we understand and respond to the Non-State Torture of women and girls. Sarson and MacDonald give us a language to talk about the most unspeakable things humans do to one another for pleasure and power. Utilizing a feminist, human rights approach, Sarson and MacDonald create a space to bear witness to the survivors of torture traffickers and offer a practical guide to implementing their Caring Healing Model. The clear language makes this book accessible to any discipline that works with traumatized women and children.
—Sharon Sullivan Ph.D., Washburn University,  St. Louis, Kansas

 

Jeanne and Linda’s work, of exposing the practice of torture and ensuring the torturers are held accountable, takes remarkable courage and determination.
Their direct contact and support work with torture victims enables them to describe first voice experiences of enduring torture.
This book will help everyone understand the heinous crime of torture, and be affirming to victims of torture, letting them know they are not alone and will be believed. 
—Bernadette MacDonald, Feminist Activist, Member –End the War on Women Collective

Well I have recieved my copy… WOMEN UNSILENCED… I am holding it , with both hands , opening it .. read a little , hugged the book, looking at you both , hug it again, open , read
Put it down , Pick it up Hug the book again , I know this is going to be unraveling, scared , hug you both again .. read the forward, hug you both , with the book close to my 💜… this is real… what human beings do , to
us as women , our children ….
I sit looking at you both … so proud I know you both… what you have accomplished, in telling the sickening truth , that lays before me  … I breath in ..
Shake … This our my women ,
Who will open one minds …Living in Hell , starts …
So , you both are forever with
With me …. Blessings ,
to listen , believe in yourselves
to tell , what is really happening
In a world , that is so sick …. You both have started to peel away the lies, that have been ignored… by the laws of justice,
doctors, lawyers, who have no morals, no worth, our fight starts here … I am hugging your pictures … knowing the truth will
Set us free…
To Linda & Jeanne …
Forever in my heart, gave me peace, by telling my story .. which open my mind , what happened to me from a child to
To murder of my best friend."
—Suzanne