Conversion therapy, a practice that aims to change, ‘cure’ or ‘repair’ an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a global problem that causes severe physical and psychological suffering to its victims. A new expert statement by the IRCT and the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) concludes that conversion therapy is practiced in more than 69 countries, is unscientific and violates the global ban on torture and ill-treatment. Based on the extreme, and often unimaginable, human suffering caused by conversion therapy, the IRCT calls for a global ban on the practice. This would be a major step forward in the global protection of particularly young LGBTI persons against torture.
Paola Peredes Photography: In front of the mirror, the ‘patient’ is observed by another girl, who monitors the correct application of the make-up. At 7.30am, she blots her lips with femininity, daubs cheeks, until she is deemed a ‘proper woman’. -
To expose how conversion therapy constitutes torture taking place at a global scale, the IFEG today published an expert statement, which is underpinned by a global research report from the IRCT. The expert statement confirms that the practice of conversion therapy violates the basic human rights of individuals and the standards and ethics of the medical and mental health professions, with no medical or scientific validity. The act of conversion therapy is cruel, inhuman and degrading and, in many cases, torture and should be made illegal in all countries. The documentation of conversion therapy and its practices has for many years been vastly under-researched, often unspecific. The global research report therefore collects information to bridge the existing knowledge gaps and to provide an evidence-based overview of what conversion therapy practices are being committed, where and by whom and how states are responsible for it.
Paola Paredes Photography: Woman locked up in a therapy clinic in Ecuador
What is conversion therapy?
Homosexuality, transgender identity and other non-heterosexual orientations or gender diversity continue to be seen as illness or sin in many societies. Conversion therapy is a practice that aims to change, ‘cure’ or ‘repair’ an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The research shows that people are subjected to corrective violence and invalid medication (including anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and hormone injections). Electroconvulsive therapy, aversive treatments using electric shocks or vomit-inducing drugs, exorcism or ritual cleansing (often involving violence while reciting religious verse), force-feeding and food deprivation, forced nudity, and forced isolation and confinement are some of the more extreme examples of conversion therapy.
However, according to the IFEG, even “[t]alk or psychotherapy can also become a repeatedly traumatic event. Session after session, the individual is confronted with their own “deviancy,” while repetition and duration increase its intensity and importance. We have seen that conversion therapies can lead to avoidance behaviours, hypervigilance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep), intrusive flashbacks, traumatic nightmares, and other symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.”
Conversion therapy is practiced in more than 69 countries in all regions and the practice is undertaken with adults and often minors who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender diverse. Conversion therapy is both provided under state control (hospitals, detention facilities, schools) and in private settings such as religious institutions, youth camps and retreats.
"Your attraction can absolutely be changed. We need to rewire your brain, and it is completely doable. No one is born that way and so if that's the case, it must be possible to change. Alcoholics change, thieves change, all sorts of people change; homosexuals are broken. Broken in that something has caused us to be gay, like trauma, sexual abuse, bad parenting.” – Conversion therapist, from “Pray the gay away” – Homosexual conversion therapy happening in NZ. 1 News (2018).
The IFEG expert group state that there are no credible scientific studies that demonstrate that conversion therapy in any form can be effective, and that any treatment or practices that purport to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity lack any foundation in science and medicine.
“Variation in sexual orientation and gender identity is not a disease or disorder. Health professionals, therefore, have no role in diagnosing it or treating it. The provision of any intervention purporting to treat something that is not a disease or disorder is wholly unethical.” – IFEG, Statement on Conversion Therapy
Paola Paredes Photography: "The memories of a girl return to the cables and rope which feature in many stories from these private clinics. Sometimes yelling, other times sedated, sometimes left in a bath of ice water until restless."
Effects of conversion therapy
The IFEG confirms that conversion therapy is a form of discrimination and repression, which harms victims and may further isolate them. Many acts of conversion therapy bear strong similarities to internationally acknowledged acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. It is considered that these acts will subject the individual to significant or severe mental and physical pain and suffering with long-term harmful effects – as the treatment is inherently humiliating, demeaning and discriminatory. Children and minors are particularly vulnerable, with a sharp increase of suicidal and depressive tendencies in those who have experienced conversion therapy.
“The combined effects of feeling powerless and extreme humiliation generate profound feelings of shame, guilt, self-disgust and worthlessness which can result in a damaged self-concept and enduring personality changes.” – IFEG, Statement on Conversion Therapy
Paola Paredes Photography:" A girl is beaten with a TV cable for failing to pick up her bag from a chair, often other gay teenagers in the centre witness this."
The IFEG statement shows there are common points for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic stress and negative health consequences such as stomach ulcers, skin diseases, migraines, sexual and eating disorders, vomiting and insomnia.
“Where conversion therapy is ordered, conducted, or supported by public authorities, the experience of being betrayed by the law adds additionally to the individual’s mental pain and suffering and their psychological symptoms.” IFEG, Statement on Conversion Therapy
Even if an individual ‘voluntarily’ seeks out conversion therapy, they can be motivated to do so due to social norms in their society. The therapist can add to the pain by reinforcing a sense of feeling wrong and a need to be fixed. This can leave patients with unexpressed feelings which potentially can be very damaging.
All forms of conversion therapy should be banned
It is clear from the expert statement that conversion therapy is inconsistent with the fundamental ethical principles and professional duties of health professionals. The IFEG have concluded on the grounds of the research that the practice runs contrary to respect for humanity, human rights and dignity and to be free from ill-treatment and torture. Health professionals who are practicing conversion therapy are not only treating individuals on an unscientific and unfounded basis, they are contributing to a social, cultural or state-sponsored system of repression against their patients on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Health professionals should refuse to conduct conversion therapy and should report colleagues who advertise or perform it to the authorities. National medical and mental health associations should take the appropriate steps to work with state authorities and governments to pass laws which ban conversion therapy. Furthermore, states have a responsibility to regulate health and education services and rid it of this harmful practice, which some promote.
For the full IFEG statement, see here
For the full IFEG statement from the JFLM, see here
For the full raw data of the study, see here
For the global research report, see here
For more information
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