We often watch news reports about a place where horrible human rights violations are occurring–Congo, Burma, Iran–and wish there was something we could do to help others so far away. But in the city of Los Angeles, there are many ways that individuals–whether you’re a physician, an attorney, a social worker or simply a Good Samaritan–can in fact make a positive impact on the lives of foreign refugees and torture victims.
Donated dentistry, psychotherapy, legal services, and sometimes even surgery is what’s needed to help rehabilitate the hundreds of torture survivors that arrive yearly in Los Angeles–the “Ellis Island of the West Coast,” according to Program for Torture Victims (PTV) executive director Julie B. Gutman. The Los Angeles Times reports that the city
“…is home to more torture survivors than any other U.S. city. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, some 18% of asylum applicants in the United States from 2002 to 2008 had their cases adjudicated in Los Angeles-area federal immigration courts — 71,767 in all. Up to 35% of the asylum seekers, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are victims of state-sponsored torture.”
Over the 30 years that PTV has been in existence, Gutman estimates that the organization has helped thousands (all at no cost to the clients), at a rate of about 300 people per year. “It’s amazing to see people who have suffered so much and arrive here with nothing–no money, no family, no housing, no hope–rebuild their lives,” she says.