This UN Day In Support of Victims of Torture, Let’s Imagine a World Without It 

I can still remember the sound of his laughter.

My next door neighbor was several years older than me, which seems like a lifetime when you’re six. We played together due mainly to his unusual life circumstances—he’d been severely injured in an accident and was confined to crutches or a wheelchair most of his young life, making it difficult for him to get out of the house and therefore leaving me as his friend-by-default due to convenience and proximity.

Given his situation, we spent virtually all of our time at his house rather than mine. And on this particular day I had been there long enough to need to use the bathroom. As was his habit sometimes, he decided to make a game out of something unexpected, and for his own amusement simply refused to allow me access to the toilet.

United Nations flag
Photo by Alexandros Michailidis/

At first I took this as typical hazing, the kind of macho bravado common to boys in North Carolina. But the more I tried to get to the bathroom the more adamant, and physical, he became. Being six years old and never having dealt with a situation quite like this one, I waited too long to finally head for home and ended up wetting myself, which at the time was absolutely humiliating. His cruel laughter burned in my ears as I made my way down the hill towards my house, too embarrassed to tell my parents what had happened, angry tears blurring my vision and a profound sense of shame and anger consuming me the rest of the afternoon.

Now imagine that experience, but amplified a thousand times.

The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture marks the moment in 1987 when the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, one of the key instruments in fighting torture, came into effect. Today, the Convention has been ratified by 162 countries.

Now imagine that experience, but amplified a thousand times.

According to the UN, the term “torture” means “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” — Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Hands tied with rope
Photo by HappyTime19/

The incident I described above has stayed with me for almost 40 years as if it happened yesterday. The stakes are so low as to be meaningless. I bear no permanent scars and have long since lost touch with my neighbor. I played with him countless times after that, only a little more wary for having seen that side of him. And yet it caused me to build up defenses I hadn’t previously thought were needed, making it just a bit harder for me to trust people or let my guard down.

True torture in all its forms, certainly far worse than anything I’ve ever experienced, is designed specifically to do damage to another person, to leave a mark—an indelible impression that is all but impossible to get rid of, if the victim is fortunate enough to even survive. 

To honor this day, I think a moment of silence for all those around the world who have been the victims of torture is well worth every one of us observing. We’ve all had moments where we’ve been made to feel a little (or a lot) less human. And we’ve also had moments where life’s possibilities seemed limitlessly bright. Every new generation must decide what kind of world we will allow ourselves to live in. I’m grateful for all the nations and people who have stood up so strongly against torture of any kind, for any reason. That’s the only kind of world I want to live in.

Wil Seabrook
Musician, writer, business owner, human rights advocate, aspiring Renaissance Man.