Unregulated gay conversion therapy clinics found in Ecuador have been using both rape and torture as corrective measures against patients, a recent investigation has reported.
According to the Sunday Times, gay people and other “socially undesirable” patients are abused in the country’s secret clinics as a means of “spiritual correction.”
The government has reported “therapies” ranging from electric shock treatment to submersion in ice-cold water.
Lesbian patients are also raped, according to the government, and two people died in clinics last year.
“We’re talking about a mafia, a network that operates on a national level, violating human rights in every province,” said Carina Vance Mafla, Ecuador’s openly lesbian health minister.
More than 500 Ecuadorian citizens have been recovered from the facilities since the start of 2013.
Among these citizens was 22-year-old Zulema Constante, a psychology student from Guayaquil whose own family arranged for her abduction after finding out she was gay.
The Sunday Times told of how she was grabbed from her father’s vehicle by two men after he had slammed on the breaks during a drive to lunch.
While she kicked and screamed during the kidnapping, they tore her clothes and manhandled her to a separate vehicle.
She said: “I’d told my family two months before that I was a lesbian and they’d been threatening me ever since.
“I was full of fear. I knew the principal ‘therapy’ at these clinics was rape.”
However, the clinic to which she was sent, which was 10 hours from her home in a remote region, instead focused on psychological torture methods.
She said: “They told me I was bad, I was hurting my family, I was being manipulated by my girlfriend, that God made woman for men.”
Ms Constante told of how she was forced to clean toilets with her own hands, and had to eat food infested with maggots.
Her daily routine included constant prayers, exercise, and a barrage of menial tasks.
Those who refused these tasks were beaten, she said. “I knew the same would happen to me if I didn’t comply.”
She added: “So I did everything they asked me, everything I could to survive, until I could escape or someone saved me.”
She managed to escaped after her girlfriend, 21-year-old Cynthia Rodriguez, publicised her disappearance.
Ms Constante’s family allegedly had claimed the disappearance was a lie, and announced on Twitter they would invite a local governor to dine at their home to prove she was with them.
After Ms Constante found out they had arranged for a taxi to bring her home, she knew she had to act.
Once in the vehicle, she borrowed the taxi driver’s phone and called her girlfriend to arrange to meet on the outskirts of Guayaquil.
She was forced to rethink her plan however, when the taxi driver took an unexpected route.
She said: “I told him I needed the bathroom. As soon as I was out of the car I found a traffic policeman, told him my story and he agreed to help me.”
The man then escorted her to where Ms Rodriguez was waiting.
“We cried with happiness, we couldn’t believe we’d done it, that she was really here,” said Ms Rodriguez.
She added: “Often people disappear to these clinics and are not seen again for months, or years.”
Ms Constante said she has not spoken to her family since. “The first time I saw my father, at my work, I was terrified, I ran away and hid. They’ve never said sorry, never shown any regret. I’m still scared and I don’t trust them.”
Clinics to “cure” gay people have been criticised as a form of a wider social cleansing issue.
Human rights expert Rebecca Schleifer said: “It’s not uncommon for drug detention centres to include other people that are socially undesirable — homeless people, people with mental disabilities.”
Previously, 24-year-old Paula Ziritti told of three months when she was shackled in handcuffs while guards threw water and urine on her. She also described numerous accounts of physical and sexual abuse.