Who We Are

Our Philosophy


Relational Feminism

Our relational feminist paradigm developed over our lifetime. Having met the challenges that come from being born into domestic family violence, individually our lived experiences also demanded overcoming the socio-relational impacts of patriarchy and misogyny, sexualized assaults, poverty, homelessness, a single parent household, class and sex-discrimination. However, neither of us have experienced torture victimization. In 1993, when 'introduced' to the reality that relational torture is  inflicted by parents and inter-generationally and by like-minded others, and groups, as well as by spouses, exploiters, pornographers and human traffickers, was knowledge that transformed our lives. It focussed our professional energies on addressing the reality of non-state torture victimization. Our lifetime of experiences led to coining our work as relational feminism. The complexity of the work cannot be addressed in these brief paragraphs however we share the basic principles that guide our grass root support of those so harmed. It is the basis of our scholarly writings and our educational presentations.

Our Relational Feminism and Its Basic Principles

1. Relational violence inflicted in the so-called private/domestic sphere is a violation of human rights. This includes identifying non-state torture (NST) as a violation of human rights as stated in the following United Nations human rights instruments which all declare that no one shall be subjected to torture. These instruments are the:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), article 5[1]
  2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 7[2]
  3. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), General  Recommendation 19, 7(b)[3]
  4. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)[4]
  5. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, article 3(h)[5]

2. The definition of NST is applied as per article 1 of CAT and as expanded on by the Special Rapporteur on torture in his 2008 report;[6] it consists of the following elements or acts that:

  1. Cause severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental
  2. Are Intentionally inflicted
  3. Are Purposefully inflicted, i.e., including inflicted because of sex discrimination
  4. Are inflicted with the acquiescence or permission of the State (country)
  5. Render the victim powerless

3. The understanding of the consequences of NST victimization must be expanded from the present concept that torture victimization destroys one's personality or sense-of-Self to understanding that the dehumanization inflicted by non-State torturers can/does destroy a woman's sense of knowing she is even a human being. It can/does destroy her sense of physicality, of having a sense of her physical space, of having physical and personhood boundaries. It can/does disconnect her from her ability to receive sensory feedback as to touch, heat, and visual color for example. This forced sense of being a fractured object is reinforced by patriarchal socio-cultural sex-based misogynistic oppression.

4. Female sex-based oppression is related to a patriarchal socio-cultural and relational construct whereby women and girls are subordinated, discriminated against and violated 'simply' because of their sex. Therefore, relational NST must be considered a form of violence that occurs globally. Women and girls so harmed learn that they were/are not 'the cause' and that it was/is not their fault that they suffered acts of torture, but it is the fault of our evolutionary positioning of men and boys as superior and controlling of women and of girls in all aspects of their lives. This knowledge gives women free space for healing, to let go of Self-blame and Self-guilt for being a girl, a woman, and for having a vagina.

5. The survival responses women developed that kept them alive are normal-for-her responses; they and their responses are not to be pathologized.

6. The fundamental guidance framework for healing from NST is doing the opposite of what the torturers do. This means understanding that the goal of the non-State torturers is to destroy her humanness by destroying her relationship with/to/for Self. Healing by doing the opposite requires reclaiming, re-constructing, her relationship with/to/for Self. It is painful work but liberating as it offers her the potential to break her state of captivity and prevent ongoing re-victimization. To achieve her safety she must also learn how to build safe and healthy relationships with others. If a woman as a child endured NST inflicted by parents, for example, she can develop a torture-parent-child-victim bond, similar to the Stockholm syndrome; this distorts her relational awareness leaving her vulnerable to on-going and to secondary re-victimization by like-minded family members or others. Healing requires recognizing that breaking these violent-based relational connections can be/is experienced as a loss and therefore grief can/will compound her suffering.

7. It needs to be recognized that men can also victims; that women and men can/do internalize misogynistic attitudes and behaviours that are destructive. Our experience informs us that women are also perpetrators of the oppression of girls and other women, as well as being involved in the torture of girls and boys, of their own children, for pleasure, for profit and for relational belonging to a like-minded NST family/group. Healing makes it necessary to acknowledge and challenge the relational myth that all women/mothers are nurturers; it challenges the relational myth that all families are caring.

8. It be recognized that appropriate social support has not been/is not present when there is socio-legal invisibilization of NST, its consequences, and the lack of NST educated professionals and communities. This creates complex perpetual crisis that hinders the healing processes.

9. Activism is a necessity of healing, for us as the listeners of NST atrocities, and for those so tortured. We do this in our scholarly writings and by presenting educational material in person or via our development of educational materials. To ensure that victimized women (and others) have an opportunity to benefit from involvement in activism we seek consent to share their personal her-stories and their art works in ways that protect their safety but gives them an opportunity to speak out and to help others.

A Holistic Summary

From a holistic perspective, a woman who is a victim of NST must be seen first and foremost a person – a woman – who has been victimized. She must be seen as a woman who, as a person is worthy of human dignity. She must be seen as a woman who has suffered physical, sexualized and mind-spirit torture injuries, who has been tortured to internalize emotional, perceptual and cognitive distortions in the torturer's efforts to silence her thereby gaining their protection and impunity. She must be seen as a woman who has suffered economic losses and relational grief.

Socially she must be seen as a person—a woman—who has endured a egregious violation of internationally recognized human rights norms. She must have the right to name and to expect that NST victimization be recognized as immense violations of her human rights. When there are no NST national laws this removes her potential for justice-seeking remedies. Human rights are women's rights. She must be seen as a woman and as a woman entitled to her human right not to be subjected to torture. Freedom from torture is a non-derogable human right of all persons, including women and girls, that must be protected under all circumstances, at all times and in any place, in the public or private spheres, whether perpetrated by State or non-state actors. The acts of NST she survived must not; we repeat, NST must not be trivialized, minimized, or misnamed as another crime such as an assault or abuse.[7]


[1.] United Nations (UN). (1948). Universal declaration of human rights (Article 5). Available http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

[2] UN. (1966). International covenant on civil and political rights. Available http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm

[3] UN. (1992). Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). General Recommendation 19, (11th session), 7(b). Available http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm#recom19

[4] UN. (1984). Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Available http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm

[5] UN. (1993). Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Available http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm

[6] Nowak, M. (2008, January 15). Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/7/3). Available http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G08/101/61/PDF/G0810161.pdf?OpenElement

[7] Nowak, M. (2010, February 5). Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Study on the phenomena of torture in the world, including an assessment of conditions of detention (A/HRC/13/39/Add.5). Available http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A.HRC.13.39.Add.5_en.pdf

feminist statement UN 2015

Jeanne Sarson, Linda MacDonald Photo by Lynn Curwin, 2017

"Acts of kindness ... were the raft that kept me from drowning in despair".

~A survivor of NST