Reported Methods, Distributions, and Frequencies of Torture Globally: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

TitleReported Methods, Distributions, and Frequencies of Torture Globally: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsMilewski A, Weinstein E, Lurie J, Lee A, Taki F, Pilato T, Jedlicka C, Kaur G
JournalJAMA Netw Open
Date Published2023 Oct 02
KeywordsChecklist, Concept Formation, Disease Progression, Female, Health Facilities, Humans, Male, Torture

IMPORTANCE: Despite its prohibition by the United Nations Convention against Torture and other international treaties, torture has been perpetrated against countless individuals worldwide, and health care practitioners globally are increasingly encountering refugee torture survivors in their clinical practices. The methods, geographic distribution, and frequency of torture globally are not well described, which limits health care practitioners' ability to adequately diagnose and treat the sequelae of torture.

OBJECTIVE: To rank the commonness of torture methods and identify the regions of the world with which they are associated.

DATA SOURCES: For this systematic review and meta-analysis, Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase, Web of Science, and The Cochrane Library were searched from inception to July 2021.

STUDY SELECTION: Included studies were peer-reviewed articles in English, contained an independent sample population of individuals who experienced torture, and outlined the type(s) of torture experienced. Excluded studies were not peer reviewed, lacked an independent sample population, or did not specify torture methods. Articles were chosen for inclusion by 2 independent and blinded reviewers, and a third, independent reviewer resolved discrepancies. Overall, 266 articles-15.3% of the 1739 studies initially identified for full review-met the inclusion criteria.

DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS: Data abstraction and quality assessment followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Data were extracted by 2 independent and blinded reviewers into predefined templates, and a third, independent reviewer resolved discrepancies. The risk of bias was evaluated using the Downs and Black Checklist.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Torture methods were ranked by their average frequencies, numbers of reporting studies, and numbers of countries wherein the methods occurred.

RESULTS: A total of 9937 titles and abstracts were screened, and 266 studies encompassing 103 604 individuals (13 350 men, 5610 women, and 84 644 unspecified) were analyzed. Torture was reported for 105 countries; 21 methods accounted for 84% of all reported methods and 10 methods accounted for 78% of all physical tortures. The top 3 methods were beating or blunt-force trauma (reported in 208 studies and 59 countries; average frequency, 62.4%; 95% CI, 57.7%-67.1%), electrical torture (reported in 114 studies and 28 countries; average frequency, 17.2%; 95% CI, 15.0%-19.4%), and starvation or dehydration (reported in 65 studies in 26 countries; average frequency, 12.7%; 95% CI, 10.2%-15.2%). According to the Downs and Black appraisal tool, 50 studies were rated as good or excellent and 216 as fair or poor.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The findings of this study suggest that torture remains widespread. Although innumerable torture methods exist, a limited number account for the vast majority of reported tortures. So that targeted therapies may be developed, additional investigation is needed to better elucidate the sequelae associated with the most common torture methods, described here.

Alternate JournalJAMA Netw Open
PubMed ID37787994
PubMed Central IDPMC10548313