One survivor of the clinics has spoken out about her ordeal at what was nominally an evangelical Christian drug and alcohol clinic in remote south-eastern Ecuador. Denisse Freire, now 25, was one of four other young people in the clinic for being gay, sent there at the age of 15 after her mother discovered her in her bedroom with another female student from her school.
Freire escaped after being held there for two months.
“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,” Freire said, explaining sexual punishments were also a part of the “treatment”.
“They told me it was for my own good.”
An escapee from another clinic in the country’s east described being handcuffed and locked in a straitjacket. 22-year-old psychology student Zulema Constante said she was forced to pray, and to clean toilets with her hands.
Constante got out of the clinic in June this year after her girlfriend used a social media campaign to report the case and pressure officials into action.
The country’s openly gay Health Minister Carina Vance said in a press conference last week there at least 80 unlicensed drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics around the country, many of which are also used for so-called conversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality.
Two people died under unknown circumstances last year in these clinics, prompting a crackdown by Ecuadorian authorities that has uncovered reports of serious abuse.
“We have reports of physical attacks, the use of ice water on inmates. We have lesbians who have reported what the clinics called ‘sex therapy,’ but which consists of being raped by men,” Vance said.
“We are talking here about a mafia, a network that operates nationally in each of the provinces, which are violating human rights.”
Authorities have closed 18 clinics since March 2012, 15 for human rights violations and three for violating health standards, but activists have said many complaints against remaining clinics are unsuccessful in part because it is families themselves who are forcing people into the clinics.
In Ecuador, addicts may be forced into treatment clinics with authorisation from a judge, but Vance stressed that this did not apply to attempts to “cure” homosexuality.