It was four years ago that I first learned about the private ‘clinics’ that claim to cure homosexuality in Ecuador. My first thought was that it could be me held there and told that, as a gay woman, I needed to change. Two years later, I came out to my family and was accepted by them. In my country, many young women and men are not so fortunate.
I discovered that around 200 clandestine centers still operate in the gaps between progressive laws and conservative beliefs. In Ecuador 80% of the population is Catholic and the church in general has very conservative values, so homosexuality is still something that is frowned upon. Until 1997, same-sex relationships and romantic activity were illegal and punishable by four to eight years in prison in Ecuador. In 2011 several cases appeared of centres offering to “cure” homosexuality, with dozens of cases coming to light: ‘ At that time it was estimated that two hundred such facilities were in operation. Many parents and families still believe that homosexuality is an addiction; a sexual disorder that they believe that can be “cured” by some harsh discipline.
The first few private rehabilitation centres emerged in the country beginning in the 1970s, several decades before any regulatory body existed to oversee them. The method of treatment in these clinics is an “until you change” mentality. For many years, the brutality of these practices has gone unpunished. Some of the most extreme of these practices include: the use of restraints, tranquilizers, beatings, withholding of food, and other forms of humiliating treatment. Most patients are kidnapped and drugged against their will by their own family.
Unfortunately, the majority of these centres remain open because they are disguised as Treatment facilities for alcoholics and drug addicts . While some of the individuals do fall into those categories, there is an alarming and growing number of gay men, women and transsexuals being admitted to these centres everyday. Another reason why these centres remain open, is the lack of vigilance by the Ecuadorean government, who are not strict in enforcing regulations, as well as the fact that in Ecuador a corrupt system of bribery exists. The truth is that these clinics are mainly run by ex-subtance abusers themselves and in some cases doctors lend their names to give the clinics credibility. One of the reasons behind the alarming growth of these centres is monetary gain, with the average cost of treatment being $500-$800 per month for each patient.
In 2011, this issue made headlines on a number of international newspapers after a Change.org petition forced the Ecuadorean government to take action, together with the help of other activist groups they managed to and close around 30 clinics. Years after, the issue has completely cooled down, not because these clinics have ceased to exist, but rather because of the short memory span of Ecuadorean society and the ongoing corrupt policies that keep these clinics open.
For me, the chance to act came late 2015. I spent six months interviewing a woman who had been sent to one of these religious ‘clinics’ by her parents and locked up for a number of months. With time, I gathered more first person accounts. Women told me of sham ‘diagnoses’ and ‘treatments’, carried out in the name of the bible.
The centers’ secrecy made it impossible to approach this issue using traditional documenting practices. Instead I set out to reconstruct a series of images, based on details from real life accounts, using myself as the protagonist and carefully sourcing locations, actors and props. I incorporated my own emotions and experiences with theatrical methods to explore the abuse of women in these institutions.
These staged images allow us to see what was never meant to be seen. The perversion of pills and prayer books; the regime of forced femininity in make-up, short skirts and high heels; torture by rope or rubber gloves; the spectre of ‘corrective’ rape.
In my attempt to take the viewer inside these secretive buildings, the scenes act as a mirror to the inner pain of the young woman. She is told she is sick, sinful, a deviant in need of curing. Suffering makes way for melancholy but her despair is what the camera is ultimately faced with. There is nothing to cure.
The human rights of these young men and women are disregarded by Ecuador’s government, these centers are camouflaged, hidden in remote areas and small towns in Ecuador, currently the Ecuadorean State does not have the capacity to regulate these clandestine places. In some cases these horrendous tortures occur inside of churches, that are hard to tracked down by the government. And in worst instances the government is somewhat complicit in these actions.
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