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Human Rights: the invisible scars of torture

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All immigrants have some difficulty adjusting to a new culture, but some of William Gorman's clients have a harder time than most. Gorman is a UIC psychologist who works with victims of torture. Gorman's clients often develop problems with substance abuse, have trouble trusting people, and even suffer from guilt for surviving at all. "The psychological consequences of torture compound the damage of the physical torture," Gorman says. Torture victims can also run into legal problems arising from their emotional ones. They often become numb, describing what has happened to them without any apparent feeling. Says Gorman, "In asylum cases, this can lead a judge to doubt the veracity of a report."

Gorman is an executive committee member of the Kovler Center for Survivors of Torture, which provides psychological, medical, and social services to victims who end up in Chicago. Beyond its paid staff of three, the Kovler Center runs on time and services volunteered by therapists, physicians, social workers, and members of the clergy. The center makes Chicago--along with Cambridge, Minneapolis, and Toronto--one of the few North American cities where torture victims are provided with specialized rehabilitation services. "The needs are greater than the resources," says Gorman, "and the needs are growing with the influx of people from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Haiti."

Gorman is speaking tonight about the psychological effects of torture as part of a weeklong symposium on the current situation in Guatemala, sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights. He'll be joined by Susan Gzesch, who will talk about U.S. immigration laws, and Carlos Gomez Lopez, a Guatemalan human-rights activist who was wounded by masked gunmen and had to be flown to Cook County Hospital for safety. It's happening at 7 on the University of Chicago campus at 1212 E. 59th St. Admission is free. Call 702-1250 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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