Philadelphia Extends a Hand to Victims of Violence: The Survivors of Torture Collaborative

by Sheena Townsend

The Philadelphia Survivors of Torture Collaborative is a partnership between HIAS Pennsylvania, Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS), which aims to provide a comprehensive array of legal, medical, mental health and case management services to survivors of torture in Greater Philadelphia. This program, funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, is a unique opportunity for all three agencies to provide expanded services to populations that have never before been able to access such care in the Philadelphia region.

The United States Torture Victims Relief Act defines torture as, “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering…upon another person within his custody or physical control.”  Many of the individuals that all three agencies serve, both within their refugee resettlement programs and outside of them, have suffered such hardship in their lives and but never before had a targeted program to serve their specific needs. The Collaborative hopes to screen approximately 600 refugees, asylees and asylum seekers in the region annually, leading to the identification of at least 110 survivors of torture each year.

As partner agencies, HIAS Pennsylvania, NSC and LCFS will be providing distinct services, while coordinating such efforts to provide a holistic service program to each survivor of torture.  NSC provides case management services as well as assistance with basic needs such as access to food, clothing, necessities, housing and transportation.  NSC also provides physical health screening with ongoing access to care, in addition to education and training through ESL, GED and vocational programs.  LCFS provides mental health care through psychological assessments and ongoing access to care, in addition to offering social activities and community integration.  HIAS Pennsylvania handles the legal needs of the survivors of torture through the legal coordinator.

The legal coordinator is the central point of contact for torture survivors who require legal assistance and works with all components of the Collaborative to ensure quality legal representation and an integrated and coordinated approach to service delivery.  This involves screening all legal matters and personally performing legal services, or referring matters to other internal personnel or to pro bono counsel.  The legal coordinator also conducts outreach to recruit pro bono attorneys and forensic evaluators, keeps track of all referrals, and coordinates interpretation and forensic service to survivors’ legal representatives.

The Collaborative is excited to be up and running and HIAS Pennsylvania, NSC, and LCFS look forward to working together to ensure an integrated approach to service delivery for all survivors of torture in the general Philadelphia area. 

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