Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Torture Survivor Advocacy Nonprofits and Representation on the Internet: The Case of Freedom From Torture

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala

Second Advisor

Tori Ekstrand (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Oliver Boyd-Barrett (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Phil Stinson (Committee Member)


This dissertation primarily examines the ways in which images and videos of tortured bodies are used in a neo-liberal socio-economic system. In this dissertation, I examine how the bodies of torture survivors have been used in order to market anti-torture nonprofit websites. In an economically harsh time period, nonprofits are forced (and sometimes encouraged) to act more like corporations. Therefore, their &"products"; must be advertised similarly to the marketing of corporations in order to gain financial support. In the dissertation, I mainly focus on two nonprofits that are situated in the United States and two in the United Kingdom. I use Freedom from Torture's website as a base template from which I use to compare and contrast the other sites. Of the four, Freedom from Torture has one of the most affectively powerful websites. Because their website has changed so much over the period of this dissertation, I am able to create a roadmap of their development to help categorize the other websites. I argue that Freedom from Torture creates a diversity of images that are sometimes problematic, but include many images that break the concept of survivor as only victim. Freedom from Torture's website helps to empower the survivor. Through my observations of their website, I create the Anti-Torture Nonprofit Development Model in order to better understand the representation of clients on these sites. The model consists of three stages that describe how these organizations represent survivors of torture. I argue that all anti-torture nonprofit websites should strive for the third stage of development where the voice of survivors is central. I use this model to examine Freedom from Torture, Redress, Program for Victims of Torture and Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International. I believe that this model will be useful to anti-torture websites and other nonprofits that are interesting in empowering their clients through positive representations.