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We make no Apologies for Explaining Non-State Torture (NST) Inflicted in Sexualized Exploitation, in Prostitution & in Pornography

by Jeanne Sarson & Linda MacDonald


Meeting Fondation Scelles 

Building relationships that travel across oceans and across different cultures and languages to stand firmly together to build a world free from sexualized exploitation is wonderful.  This was our experience when we visited and met the incredible staff of the “Fondation Scelles,” in Paris, France, on Monday, May 13th, 2019.  We learned that Fondation Scelles’ work of combating the system of prostitution began more than 25 years ago.  Our work of naming and explaining there are acts of violence committed against women and female children that amounts to torture also began over 25 years ago.  Torture is committed by human traffickers, sellers and buyers, and pornographers, but also by parents, other family members, family friends, husbands or partners, and others. >>

Left to right : Brigitte Polonovski, Yves Charpenel, Frédéric Boisard, Sandra Ayad, Jeanne Sarson, Linda MacDonald


Torture by non-State actors


Private individuals or groups who commit such acts of torture are called non-State actors and the torture is called non-State torture (NST).  In our conversation with Fondation Scelles staff we learned these terms are not easily translated.  In Canada the French translations are either “des agents non étatiques” or “des acteurs non governementaux.” 


In our work some women tell us they were born into families that tortured and trafficked them since they were babies.  For example, Sara drew this picture to explain how her parents trafficked her when she was just two years old.  Sara was an adult woman when she came to us for help.  She was still being trafficked and tortured.

Other women also contact us who were tortured when in prostitution, or when exploited in torture pornography, or tortured by her husband.  For these reasons we teach that sexualized exploitation and torture can be suffered at many ages.  We ask people to remember the continuum in figure 3.   Woman contact us not only from Canada but from the United States, the UK, other Western European countries, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and when at United Nations sessions women from different countries in Africa tell of being tortured.   


Questionnaire on prostitution and NST


Women who are exploited in prostitution can fill in a questionnaire on prostitution and NST that is on our website.  Figure 4 is a copy of the questionnaire a Canadian woman filled in.  Questionnaires help us collect information so we can tell our government that NST is inflicted against women and female children of all ages who suffered sexualized exploitation.



Post traumatic stress response (PTSR)


To survive non-State torture violence women’s bodies respond in many different ways.  But once they have escaped or exited they may be dissociative and have difficulties staying present in the here and now.  They may become confused, wander about and go places not knowing where they are or what they have done.  They may have no physical sensation when their skin is touched and they even tell us that their vision is affected.  They say that for years they only saw in black and grey tones and the red of their blood but they never noticed other colors.  They may have Self-harming patterns such as Self-cutting, have eating difficulties, or use drugs and alcohol to deaden their emotional suffering.  They may maintain a relationship with suicide as the only way to end their hurt.  These are survival responses that we call post traumatic stress responses (PTSR).  We do not label the women or their responses as being disordered—we do not use the term post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  When women have suffered and survived NST victimization they require NST informed victimization-traumatization care.    


 Feminists W7 summit


We were in Paris, along with our friend Megan Walker, for the May 10th Feminists Women7 summit.  Gathered together were feminist civil society organizations from G7 countries and from many other countries.  Our goal was to speak about non-State torture as a specific form of violence women and female children of all ages suffer.  Fighting sexualized violence in all its forms was one of the recommendations of the W7 Paris summit under point 2.3.  When this discussion took place, there was much talk of the need to collect statistics or data.  But if non-State torture is not named and if there is no law against torture committed by non-State actors then no such crime is seen to exist and no data is collected.  Or, if there is a law on torture that criminalized any person who commits torture but this law is not used in a legal way to help women who are tortured to gain access to justice then no data is collected.  When there no law or the law is not used the torture of women and female children exploited in prostitution, in torture pornography, sold by human traffickers, or tortured in their homes becomes invisible.  The women’s and the female children’s non-State torture suffering is invisibilized. 


We had an opportunity to ask questions.  Asking this question about invisible data and Megan Walker, Executive Director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, asked this question.  Several years ago we did a workshop for staff of the Centre; they now include NST as a form of violence that women can identify suffering and have healing support.  We also distributed this fact sheet to various W7 feminists at the summit.      


The feminists Women7 presented their recommendations to the Ministers of the G7 countries.  Then France had a closing event involving the Advisory Council and G7 Ministers.  For the G7 summit France has made gender equality a global cause.  Included in this goal is promoting laws in favor of women’s rights.  Insuring that woman and girls of all ages have a legal human right not to be subjected to torture as stated in article 5 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights would indeed be a law that supported women’s rights.  It is now in the 71st year since article 5 was written as a human right that belonged equally to all women—to all persons! 


We enjoyed joining Brigitte Polonovski of Fondation Scelles at the W7 summit.  Visiting the staff at Fondation Scelles gave us much to share about the violence—the non-State torture—that women and female children suffer when exploited.  It was a wonderful visit and we look forward to working with Fondation Scelles to build a world free from sexualized exploitation 




Sarson, J. (2017). Non-state torture: A response to Ibrahim Kira’s “A critical outlook at torture ...”. The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict & Violence.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2019). Herstorical forerunners to present day cyber crimes: Non-state torturers, traffickers, pornographers, and buyers. Femicide Volume XI Cyber Crimes Against Women & Girls, 18-23.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2018). Suicidal-femicide conditioning: A tactic of family-based non-State torturers and traffickers of a daughter. Femicide Volume X Contemporary Forms of Enslavement of Women & Girls, 85-87.

Sarson, J., & MacDonald, L. (2018). No longer invisible: families that torture, traffic, and exploit their girl child. Oñati Journal of Emergent Socio-legal Studies, 8(1),85-105.


Contact Linda MacDonald, MEd, BN, RN and Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN

Co-founders Persons Against Non-State Torture (NST)

Human Rights Defenders

361 Prince Street, Truro, NS, Canada B2N 1E4

P: 1.902.895.6659 | C: 1.902.956.2117 | Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.


La Fondation Scelles dans la presse

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