Founded in 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) was the first torture treatment center in the United States, only the third in the world. Today CVT is internationally recognized and works locally, nationally, and internationally to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families, and their communities, and to stop torture worldwide. CVT is transforming the way we understand torture and is forging new ways to advance human rights. Through treatment for survivors, research, outreach, advocacy, and prevention, CVT is leading the movement to build a vision of the torture treatment movement as a strategic advancement of human rights. Indeed, now there are more than 200 torture treatment centers in the world, 40 of them in the U.S. CVT is challenging the idea that torture is an effective interrogation tool. It is not. Rather, torture is a weapon of fear used to destroy leadership and control societies. Even after a corrupt regime is gone, torture leaves communities fearful and too afraid to engage in public life. CVT is leading the movement to recognize the strategic and humanitarian contributions of torture treatment centers to the broader international human rights movement. Treatment for victims of torture is a humanitarian strategy because it provides care to individuals so they can overcome the depression, anxiety, fear, and thoughts of suicide. But treatment also has a strategic benefit because when we bring leaders back to work, communities can recover and overcome the culture of fear and apathy.
CVT is the result of a conversation between then-Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich and his son, Rudy Perpich, Jr. The governor promised his son he would use his position to act on behalf of human rights. Governor Perpich sought ideas from local leaders, including Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and David Weissbrodt, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and expert in international human rights law. They presented the governor with a list of ten ideas for action--the most ambitious being the establishment of the first treatment center in the U.S. for victims of torture.
~Holly Ziemer, Minneapolis, MN
Founded in 1985, The Center for Victims of Torture became the first torture treatment center in the United States, and only the third in the world. Bringing light to the atrocities committed against people around the globe, Minnesotans gained a greater perspective about their new immigrant neighbors and embraced the opportunity to provide a healing community to these survivors.
~Kristi Rendahl, St Paul, MN
Finding a safe harbor far from home
It all began with a conversation between Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich and his son, a student at Stanford Law School, who was active in Amnesty International. Rudy Jr. urged his father to use his position to address the world's human rights inequities. With characteristic zeal, Rudy Sr. got to work.
Governor Perpich assembled a team of local human rights advocates, which presented ten ideas for local action. First on the list was the establishment of the first treatment center for victims of torture in the United States. Intrigued by the idea, Perpich visited the Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims in Copenhagen, Denmark. On his return, he appointed a task force to determine whether Minnesota could support such an organization.
Minnesota's Center for Victims of Torture was founded in May 1985 as an independent, nonprofit organization. Initially, the center was located at St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center, but many clients found the institutional setting intimidating. In 1987 it moved to a small house on the University of Minnesota campus, and in 1991 the center moved to a three-story house in Minneapolis overlooking the Mississippi River. In renovating the house, designers took the needs of torture victims into account. Comfortable furnishings, large windows, and soft, rounded corners combine to make settings inviting and nonthreatening. In 2003, the organization opened the St. Paul Healing Center in a residential neighborhood.
The Center for Victims of Torture provides medical and psychological services directly to torture survivors. Staff members also train others to work with torture survivors and refugees; they conduct research and publish their findings on the effects of torture; and they advocate for public policy changes in Minnesota and worldwide. In 2006, the American Psychological Association recognized the center for its five-year effort to provide mental health services to thousands of refugees fleeing civil unrest in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
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