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Impending Closure of Denver's Survivors' Center

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It was very painful for me to hear that the Rocky Mountain Survivors' Center of Denver (RMSC) would soon close its doors. It sounded so preposterous; in my mind it seems some things of great value should never come to an end. I wondered where the many victims of torture who live among us would end up next. What facility, if any, will next take care of them? Or, will they end up mere statistics: victims of domestic abuse; or suicides among our refugees; drug abusers and alcoholics. Or the criminally insane. Or just lonely, shriveled up souls living among us?

It's a shame, it seems to me, to think that for the lack of a not too large amount of money we would let die a perfectly good institution like RMSC which has an exemplary track record. How can a center that has been valiantly fighting to mend broken souls from the four corners of the earth end up closing its doors?

The earth's soil it sometimes seems has a greater propensity to grow more torturers than peacemakers or givers of sweet silence's balm. Most of the world's governments tend to devote more funds to causes that torment and anguish man than those that bring enlightenment and foster kindness. RMSC was an institution that brought light and warmth to folks who knew so little from where they came.

I have been a witness of the good work RMSC has been doing. I have seen the men and women -- victims of man's cruelty to man -- who have gravitated to its doors to unburden themselves of the darkness that weighs their souls down; the nightmares that populate their nights.

The Survivors' Center established in 1996 has helped many victims of rape -- a form of torture that seems to have consistently over the years gained popularity. Today, it is a matter of routine; rape is part of the torturers' armory. The victims, mostly women (even though men have been subjected to it also) came from Bosnia, and recently from Darfur and the Congo.

Others have been men and women, subjected to all manner of physical and mental cruelty in an effort to break their spirit, to destroy them as human beings. It is particularly sad that torturers don't care about physical weakness or innocence: from children, to the sick, all are tortured; there are no exceptions.

Many such souls have been treated at the Center; and many have been able to live rather normal lives. The closure of RMSC will mean that there will be no recourse for these folks -- a sad prospect indeed.

The Center's other services have included legal help for refugees, who often find themselves on the wrong side of the immigration equation. Folks who had to prove that the experiences in their home countries constituted a narrow legal definition of torture. Unfortunately often, our well-intentioned immigration service employees are not always as enlightened as they should be. It was in those moments that the center's aid was valuable for the detained or the about to be deported asylum seekers.

These are difficult economic times for everyone. One suspects that funds that flowed from the federal government to help mental health facilities are sadly the first to be cut. Unfortunately, other supplementary funds from other sources will not suffice to keep RMSC's doors open. It's also sad that many other mental health institutions are not geared to and their personnel are not trained to deal with survivors of torture. And in any case, many of them will probably soon see their funding drastically reduced.

In talking to the RMSC's personnel they emphasize several things. Their clients remain in the community. And even though the institution -- the four walls, communication system, etc. -- will not be there, there's one other thing that will survive. The passion of the men and women who have been treating refugees and survivors of torture.

No sooner than it became clear RMSC was facing its demise than they began regrouping, finding other places where they can temporarily see their clientele. They have sent the word out that they're looking for mental health workers, psychologists and psychiatrists willing to volunteer their time and their office space.

This is the "can do" of a small number of Americans who year in and year out are consistently finding ways to give of themselves. As sad as it is that the Survivors' Center is closing, the spirit of helping the mentally tortured of the world in our midst will not die and it is our hope that another center will rise, like a phoenix from the ashes from the closing center.