Physical assault. Sexual abuse. Buckets of urine and cold water thrown on your body. Psychological abuse. Being forced to dress as prostitute and going days without food or water and with shackling and verbal threats. These are said cures for the “sick,” the “disturbed,” and, all distorted language purposes aside, for those who are gay.
In a world where homophobia still has its gnarly roots in almost every culture, gay rehabilitation centers are predominantly still thought of as a U.S.-based phenomenon, even though the practice of trying to “correct” homosexual behavior is not a new or U.S.-centric concept (see South Africa, Jamaica, and well, just about every country). But buried deep in Ecuador, often beyond the tourist attractions and somewhere between the forests and the beaches, lie almost 200 rehabilitation clinics, often publicly known as drug rehabilitation centers, where LGBTQ citizens are sent to be “cured” of their homosexuality through an advertised means of “intense rehabilitation.” There are many people, often ex-patients and survivors, who would severely disagree with the cure. According to survivors, these clinics are using forms of torture like those mentioned above, along with corrective rape as a means to “cure” and rehabilitate lesbian women (reports are now coming forward that there are gay men in the clinics as well).
However, in the past few months, patients of these “clinics” have escaped, often in need of serious psychological treatment to to help them with the many abuses they have had done to them as they were held against their will. One of the reasons that the abuses that happen within these clinics is coming to light is due to one of the few woman who have recently escaped and drawn attention to the severe human rights abuses that are taking place in these clinics. From Diane Anderson-Minshall of The Advocate:
When Paola Ziritti was 24, her parents sent her to a “forced confinement” clinic in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where–unbeknownst to her parents–she experienced “battering, sexual abuse, deprivation of all kinds, and constant [ridicule]…”
It took over a year for Ziritti’s mother to free her from the torture, and another six months of “real psychological treatment … to try to recover from his “˜cure against homosexuality,’” said Ziritti, who was the first woman to agree to file a complaint against these treatments. Her testimony was crucial in helping to close the clinic that tortured and humiliated her–and others like it, said Tatiana Velasquez, from the lesbian organization Taller de ComunicaciÃ³n Mujer. Activists got the government to close 27 of these “treatment centers” in August, but there are still 207 clinics of this type, said Velasquez. “For 10 years we have been aware of 30 cases of lesbians,” she said. Those are just the escapees, the un-reformed, so to speak.
While the clinics are predominantly aimed at correcting lesbian women, two other recent female patients who escaped reported the presence of transgender, bisexual, and gay male prisoners being held in the centers, all being subjected to the same types of abuse. Multiple women’s rights organizations like Taller de ComunicaciÃ³n Mujer, FundaciÃ³n Causana, and ArtikulaciÃ³n EsporÃ¡dika are demanding that the Ecuadorian government begin an immediate investigation into the clinics for human rights abuses. FundaciÃ³n Causana’s Karen Barba:
“The Ecuadorian government must stop turning a blind eye and wake up to the horrific reality of these torture clinics”¦ There are estimates of 200 clinics or more still in business. That means that there are likely hundreds of thousands of women and men being tortured and sexually abused on a daily basis. The perpetrators of these clinics are not only getting away with obscene human rights abuses; they are actually profiting off them.”
The coalitions against the clinics have started an International petition on Change.org calling for the immediate investigation and subsequent closing of the clinics. The petition, which currently has around 94,000 signatures, will be delivered to Dr. David Chirboga Allnut, Ecuador’s Minister of Health.
Thirty of these clinics have been closed within the past year, yet, there are over 200 still open, often hidden underneath the banner of “drug rehabilitation,” relying on word-of-mouth to reveal the actual purpose of the clinic. Yet many Ecuadorians have been unaware of the actual acts of abuse and torture that happen within the clinics, as well as the sheer illegality of their existence. Ecuador legally supports gay rights and has strict laws against violence towards women, yet these clinics still disguise themselves as rehabilitative, which allows them to exist within loopholes and cracks in the system. Though international pressure is rising, due in part to the actions begun by FundaciÃ³n Causana, more is needed not only t shut down all the clinics, but also to emphasize that sexual orientation is not a disease that can be cured by rape, torture or any other forcible action.
“The closure of the first clinics by the government is good, but not good enough. Why is the clinic where I suffered still open?” says Ziritti, who is now 28. It’s a damning question. Why are these clinics still open and really, why were they even started in the first place? To calm frightened parents who didn’t understand or feared their gay children? To “cure” something that’s incurable and more importantly, not about being cured?
All we know for certain is that this has got to stop.
For more information on this or to sign Change.org’s petition to close down the centers, click here or you can contact Ecuador’s Ministry of Public Health, Communications Department +593 2-3814-400, firstname.lastname@example.org or Ecuador’s Minister of Public Health, Foreign Press Contact +593 2-3827-000, ext. 7087.