In the country of Ecuador, nestled among tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, and cosmopolitan cities, there are more than 200 clinics where LGBT men and women are sent to be "cured" of their homosexuality. The clinics claim this "cure" is accomplished through "intense rehabilitation." But Ecuadorians are telling a different story -- that widespread physical torture and psychological abuse are part of the treatment.
Ecuadorian activists are using online advocacy platform Change.org to speak out against the 200 remaining torture clinics that exist throughout Ecuador. Activists launched a campaign on Change.org earlier this month and have already garnered support from over 80,000 people in 124 countries.
While these clinics operate under the guise of drug rehabilitation centers, the public is generally aware of their existence, and it is unfortunately not uncommon for conservative families to send their children to the clinics in an effort to reverse their homosexuality. What is not publicly known, however, is that these clinics practice torture and sexual abuse in order to cure homsexuality.
The silence is being broken as victims are beginning to speak out. In the past six months, numerous patients have escaped clinics and are coming forward to press charges and speak publicly about their experience. One such prominent voice is that of 24-year-old Paola Ziritti. Paola's parents knew they were sending her to a forced-confinement clinic, but they had no idea how awful it would be. Once Paola's mother realized what she'd done, she tried to get her daughter back, but the clinic said no. The process to free Paola took a year. "I spent two years in one such facility and for three months was shackled in handcuffs while guards threw water and urine on me," said Paola, who describes numerous accounts of physical and sexual abuse during her "rehabilitation." "Why is the clinic where I suffered still open?"
Ziritti was the first to speak out and also to file a formal complaint against the treatment centers. Since she went public with her story, it has encouraged others to do the same, and in September two other victims came forward. Fundación Causana hopes that these women's stories will encourage others to speak out.
But it is not just former victims who are speaking out. A coalition of leading Ecuadorian women's rights organizations, such as Fundación Causana, Taller de Comunicación Mujer, and Artikulación Esporádika, are standing up against these clinics. They launched a campaign on Change.org, demanding that the Ecuadorian government investigate reports of abuse. They say that the time has come to stop the torture of LGBT people under the guise of treatment, and for Ecuador to start respecting the basic human rights of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Since the campaign was launched a little over a week ago, it has gained international attention and widespread support. Over 80,000 supporters from 124 countries have signed their name to the Change.org petition, calling Ecuadorian Minister of Health Dr. David Chirboga Allnut to investigate and close the clinics.
Fundación Causana's leading advocate, Karen Barba, is speaking up about the clinics. "The Ecuadoran government must stop turning a blind eye and wake up to the horrific reality of these torture clinics," says Barba. "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. We are inspired to see over 80,000 people support the campaign on Change.org, and we will not stop until each and every clinics has been closed."
Fundación Causana believes that we are making progress. What used to be a dark secret has now become a rallying cry for an international call to action. Ecuador has demonstrated its sensitivity to international pressure and has already closed 30 torture clinics. With the backing of 80,000 people on Change.org, Fundación Causana has international support in calling for the closure of all remaining clinics. The international LGBT community is waiting for Ecuador to protect LGBT rights at home and, in doing so, take a positive step forward for LGBT rights worldwide.
Support Fundación Causana, Taller de Comunicación Mujer, and Artikulación Esporádika and add you voice to the growing number of people worldwide calling on Ecuador to investigate and close all remaining torture clinics.