The "Rats Dungeon", or "Dungeon of the Rats", was a feature of the Tower of London alleged by Roman Catholic writers from the Elizabethan era. "A cell below high-water mark and totally dark" would draw in rats from the River Thames as the tide flowed in. Prisoners would have their "alarm excited", and in some instances have "flesh ... torn from the arms and legs".
During the Dutch Revolt, Diederik Sonoy, an ally of William the Silent, is documented to have used a method where a pottery bowl filled with rats was placed open side down on the naked body of a prisoner. When hot charcoal was piled on the bowl, the rats would "gnaw into the very bowels of the victim" in an attempt to escape the heat.
Rat torture was allegedly used in Brazil during the military regime of 1964-1985, in Chile during the regime of Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990) and in Argentina during the period of the National Reorganization Process (1976–1983). The report of CONADEP in Argentina detailed the use of a torture method known as "the recto-scope" (reserved primarily for Jewish prisoners) which consisted of inserting living rats into a victim's rectum or vagina through a tube. Amnesty International documented the case of a woman tortured by the Chilean CNI (National Intelligence Agency) in 1981, who described being kept in a room full of live rats during interrogation.
On October 16, 2010, in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, David Wax was alleged to have threatened kidnap victim Yisrael Bryskman with rat torture unless he agreed to give his wife a get. He was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for assisting in a kidnapping.
Rats are featured in the Edgar Allan Poe story The Pit and the Pendulum. The narrator lies on the rack, and can only watch as a scythe swings back and forth, approaching closer each time, as rats swarm over his body. The narrator later manages to make the rats eat through the straps.
An account similar to the Sonoy torture appears in the 1899 Octave Mirbeau novel The Torture Garden, and psychologist Leonard Shengold has identified this as the possible source of the story that the Rat Man told Freud. Part of the book, an imaginary dialog between a torturer and a beautiful woman who is sexually excited by the accounts, is set in China.
The threat of rat torture occurs in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The central character, Winston Smith, is arrested by the Ministry of Love, and undergoes a process of mental reprogramming. The ministry imprisons him in Room 101. Here Winston must face his greatest fear: rats. A cage filled with hungry rats is placed over his head, their only source of food or escape being by eating their way through Winston's face. At this point Winston breaks and begs that the method actually be used on his lover Julia, a sign that he has finally been broken.
- Cameron, Mary (1931). Merrily I Go to Hell: Reminiscences of a Bishop's Daughter.
the Canton Rat torture, in which enormous half starved rats are put into a box with the victim, who is rapidly eaten alive
- George Lillie Craik; Charles MacFarlane (1848). The Pictorial History of England. Harper & Brothers.
- John Lothrop Motley (1883). The Rise of the Dutch Republic. Bickers & Son.
- Leonard Shengold (1971). "More about Rats and Rat People". International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 52 (3): 277–288. PMID 5106163.
- Simmons, Elizabeth (2009). Torture Under Pinochet's Regime. p. 12.
- Nunca Más (Never Again); Report of CONADEP. 1984.
- Chile: Evidence of torture: an Amnesty International Report. London (Amnesty International Publications) 1983, pp. 35–37
- Shaer, Matthew (September 2, 2014) "Epstein Orthodox Hit Squad", GQ
- (January 13, 2016) "NJ Couple Sentenced For Helping Jewish Divorce Ring", The Times of Israel
- Kevin J. Hayes (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-79727-6.
- Jorge Ahumada (Summer 2005). "Review of Mental Zoo: Animals in the Human Mind and its Pathology". Publications: Book Reviews. American Psychological Association Division of Psychoanalysis. Retrieved 2008-01-27.
- Christopher Boorse, Roy A. Sorensen (March 1988). "Ducking Harm". The Journal of Philosophy. 85 (3): 115–134. doi:10.2307/2027067. JSTOR 2027067.