More LGBT people in Ecuador are going public about escaping from illegal gay conversion clinics in the region.
According to the country’s Health Minister Carina Vance, who is openly gay, Ecuador has at least 80 unlicensed alcohol and drug rehab clinics, many of which double as illegal centers for anti-gay conversion therapy.
‘We are talking here about a mafia, a network that operates nationally in each of the provinces, which are violating human rights,’ said Vance.
‘We have lesbians who have reported what the clinics called “sex therapy,” but which consists of being raped by men.’
Vance also reported ‘we have reports of physical attacks, the use of ice water on inmates’ at these clinics.
An increasing number of reports come from LGBT people who managed to escape these clinics after brutal treatment, According to Agence France-Presse.
At age 15, Denisse Freire’s mother sent her to a remote ‘Christian camp’ when she was discovered in her room with a female classmate.
Now 25 years old, Freire said: ‘they tortured me with electric shocks, didn’t let me bathe for three days, gave me almost nothing to eat, hit me a lot, hung me by my feet.
‘They told me it was for my own good.’
Friere managed to escape after two months in the evangelical Christian rehab clinic for substance abuse and addiction. Friere claims she and four other people were kept in confinement and given abusive treatment because they were gay.
Last month, 22-year-old Zulema Constante also escaped from a different clinic, based in the eastern city of Tena, where her family had forced her into because she was a lesbian.
Constante claims she was handcuffed and kept in a straightjacket. ‘I had to pray, they gave me food poisoning, forced me to clean toilets with my hands, and told me I was wrong to be a lesbian.’
Thanks to Constante’s 21-year-old girlfriend Cynthia Rodriguez, who enlisted the help of local LGBT rights activists like Lia Burbano from women’s rights group Mujer y Mujer, a social media campaign was launched to raise awareness of Constante’s capture.
According to Bruno Bimbi, who works with The Argentine LGBT Federation and who interviewed Constante, the local Ecuadorian government called her father to pressure him for the truth.
Constante’s father called her at the clinic to say she would be released under the condition she said she was at a religious retreat.
Silvia Buendía, Constante’s lawyer, has filed a formal complaint with the courts and is awaiting a hearing date. Meanwhile, Zulema’s case has garnered some international attention thanks to the social media campaign launched for her release.
Openly gay Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin, upon learning about the case, tweeted: ‘This is like a horror movie. This must stop now. #Ecuador: teen abducted and tortured on parents’ request.’
The ministry has revealed that since March 2012, 15 of these rehab centers have been closed for human rights violations. Another three were shut down for health violations.
The Ecuadorian government has been promising since January 2012 to shut down the anti-gay conversion clinics after petitions from All Out and Change.org.