Non-State Torture: A Response to Ibrahim Kira's "A Critical Outlook at Torture …"

Dialogues with –
A Critical Outlook at Torture Definition, Structure, Dynamics, and Interventions a Brief Research Report by Ibrahim A. Kira

Comments by –
Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN, RN

Kira’s reconceptualizing and re-defining torture by increasing the inclusiveness to acts of torture perpetrated by non-State actors within “inter- or intra-group discord or conflict” appears to relate to the public sphere. Reconceptualizing who non-State torturers can be and who the persons are that they torture must be expanded to the private or domestic sphere. From a global feminist human rights perspective, human rights are women’s rights. Human right instruments such the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most widely translated document in the world (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, 1996-2017), states “no one shall be subjected to torture”—article 5. This applies equally to all human beings—article 1. For women and girls my colleague, Linda MacDonald, and I have supported since 1993, the torturers exist within their intimate relationships. Women report being born into organized non-State torture (NST) perpetrating family systems (Sarson & MacDonald, 2016) or suffering spousal inflicted NST (Sarson & MacDonald, 2009). Houses, basements, cottages, in-doors and out-doors, any place where these torturers are secure are the torture chambers.

The women we know fit into and have withstood forms of torture listed in Kira’s Table 1, which are grouped into “six factors”. However, they report suffering non-listed forms of torture. For example, electric shocking, water tortures, forced impregnations and abortions, and being trafficked, as toddlers and or as adults, by, for instance, parent(s), inter-generational family members, spouses, and to other like-minded perpetrators. When a woman is born into a family unit that inflicts NS, 10,000 torture-rapes over 20 years can occur (Sarson & MacDonald, 2012). This specific account does not include trafficking or gang-raped in all body orifices, forced involvement in torture-based pornography, or bestiality. Re-defining and reconceptualizing inclusiveness must acknowledge that torture is inflicted in the private or domestic sphere.

My next comment addresses Kira’s conceptualization that when a torturer tortures it is “not a response to internal or external subjective drive.” Based on the NST descriptions by women Linda and I know and in writings about State torturers such as by Sampson (2005) who was held in solitary confinement in a Saudi Arabian prison for more than two years, both non-State and State male torturers express “Internal or external subjective drives”—that of inflicting and deriving sexualized torture pleasures. Seldom is this reality discussed. I focus on male non-State and State torturers’ as Linda and I do not have sufficient comparative experience that relates to female torturers. The torturers’ “internal or external subjective drive” of sexualized torture pleasures needs to be examined in a multi-layered manner.

I offer these evidentiary multi-layered considerations:

  1. To perpetrate penis raping male torturers require an anatomical, physiological erection. The sexualized torture pleasure can include climatic ejaculation.
  2. Multi-torturer raping such as in group- or gang-raping may initiate a form of voyeuristic group-bonding, reinforcing a group like-minded belongingness that makes their acts of sexualized torture acceptable and possibly more pleasurable.
  3. Inflicting sexualized torture is a torturer’s weapon and expression of having ‘absolute’ power over another human being. Whether committed by single or group non-State or State actor(s), inflicting sexualized torture has the potential impact of destroying the tortured person’s relational sense of Self’.

Lynn, a Canadian woman, who took two years to tell Linda and me her story of being held captive, tortured, and trafficked by her spouse and three of his friends (Sarson & MacDonald, 2009), told us, “Taking their turn at gang raping me . . . . when they finished . . . I felt utterly destroyed! . . . I became piece of meat”. Sampson (2005) wrote when raped by a male State torturer that, “I felt so violated and degraded in a way the other brutality could not achieve . . . it is an effective means . . . of destroying . . . [the] sense of self” (p. 141-143).

Increasing inclusiveness by reconceptualizing and re-defining torture needs to uphold a human rights model acknowledging all persons so violated. The specific population or group one is concerned about can be particularly identified. The torturer’s subjective sexualized torture-raping pleasures must not be made invisible. All persons so tortured must be supported in their truth-telling denunciations to reinstate their human dignity.


Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. (1996-2017). About the universal declaration of human rights translation project. Geneva, CH: United Nations. Retrieved from

Sampson, W. (2005). Confessions of an innocent man Torture and survival in a Saudi prison. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2009). Defining torture by non-state actors in the Canadian private sphere. First Light, 29-33.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2012). Torture victimization—Child to adult: Flashbacks and Connection with first responders, Part 1. Sexual Assault Report, 15(5), 65-66, 68, 72-74.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2016). Seeking equality—Justice and women’s and girls’ human right not to be subjected to non-state torture (263-281). In J. Scutt (Ed.). Women, law and culture Conformity, contradiction and conflict (263-281). Cham, CH: Palgrave MacMillan.

Contact Jeanne Sarson.