#torture: Do you mean it?

Editor’s Note: The following contains brief descriptions of torture methods.

Logging onto to Twitter, I pull up the search tab for all Tweets marked with #torture. Some describe the upcoming trials of Bahrain police officers for torture; some link to news stories on rendition. But by far the majority of them feature some variations of the following:

Lying in bed counting down the minutes until I have to actually get up. #torture

Rain + wind #torture

I’ve been putting my alarm on snooze for a minute since half 6?! And managed to fall asleep every minute just to be woken up! #torture

When your feet are freezing and you have to take a hot shower. #torture

Of course, people are apt to hyperbole on Twitter, and it’s not uncommon to hear the word ‘torture’ used colloquially to simply mean an uncomfortable experience. On Twitter, more often than not, ‘torture’ simply means getting up early.

Misuse of the term ‘torture’ is rife in the media, too. Reading the daily clippings – sent to us by email through a search of the word ‘torture’ – part of my job is to search and filter the results to send out to our member network and the staff at the Secretariat. I search for stories regarding incidences (or circumstances that may lead to) torture, as defined by the United Nations:

… Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

So what would a Tweet look like from a torture victim?

Lying on a cold floor, in a cell 1X1 meter, haven’t been allowed to sleep for 8 days #sleepdeprivation

Water + covered face + reclined + feel as though I’m drowning #waterboarding

I’ve been forced to stand in an extremely bright room, loud music played for weeks, completely alone #longtermisolation #solitaryconfinement

When your feet are bull whipped #falanga #torture

When government officials, often police or prison guards in places of detention, inflict such violent and painful acts, many that leave long-lasting mental and physical damages to the victim, this is torture. It’s done often to extract confessions, obtain bribes, retribution, or simply because someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Misuse and exaggerated use of this term simply muddles it’s true meaning and the horrible experiences behind it.

  Tessa is communications assistant, focusing on social media and the women and girls projects.


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  1. #1 by Jen Spendlove on 05/01/2012 - 14:41

    Great article! I agree that it is a very overused term. I really appreciate you quoting the very clear definition. I have had therapists apply the word to some of my experiences but never really thought it fit. According to your definition though, it does. A sobering reality. Thank you for helping pull back a layer of my denial so I can heal, and thank you for helping to get people to understand the reality of torture better and to take it more seriously.

  1. ‘Torture’ advert mocks survivors’ experiences « World Without Torture

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