Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack has welcomed today’s State Government announcement of new legislation to ban conversion therapy in Victoria.
Ms Cusack said the decision followed the Health Complaints Commissioner’s (HCC) inquiry into conversion therapy/practices under section 103 of the Health Complaints Act 2016, which commenced in May 2018.
She thanked the victims of conversion therapy/practices who came forward to the HCC as part of the inquiry.
“I want to thank the many people who came forward and bravely told their harrowing stories of being subjected to conversion therapy or ‘ex-gay ideology’,” Ms Cusack said.
“The issues remain very raw for people, often many years later.”
Ms Cusack said the HCC’s inquiry included individual and group interviews with victims of conversion therapy/practices and, in some cases, discussion with family members of victims.
“What we learned from the inquiry from the brave people who trusted us with their stories was that the trauma suffered by people who have been subjected to the practice can be deep and all-consuming, even many years after the conversion therapy ‘treatment’ has ceased,” she said.
“Our inquiry looked at research in Australia and overseas and what was very clear is that conversion therapy is widely-condemned for the harmful effects it causes.
“It has been well-documented that conversion therapy/practices can cause long-term psychological harm and distress to people who have undergone these ‘therapies’.”
Ms Cusack said Victoria would be the first state in Australia to ban this harmful practice.
“A number of jurisdictions overseas have banned the practice of conversion therapy,” she said.
“Legislation sends a very strong message to the wider community that conversion therapy/practices have no place in the 21st century.
“I’m very pleased that the State Government has announced this new legislation, which will see conversion therapy banned in Victoria.”
Gay conversion therapy is defined as any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.
Contemporary forms of conversion therapy/practices can include counselling, psychology or psychotherapy, formal behaviour-change programs, support groups, prayer-based approaches and exorcisms. Providers of conversion therapy/practices may include unregulated health service providers.
The HCC inquiry’s findings detail the long-term psychological harm and distress to people who have undergone conversion therapy/practices. Several key themes which were identified can be summarised as follows:
- Survivors experience acute distress and/or ongoing mental health issues such as severe anxiety and depression;
- Survivors experience feelings of guilt and shame about their sexuality, reporting being “overwhelmed by guilt” and guilt that is “always there”;
- Conversion therapy/practices reinforced homosexuality as a form of ‘brokenness’;
- Church teachings that homosexuality is sinful;
- Pressure to change a person’s sexuality from gay to straight or pressure to stop acting on a person’s same-sex attraction;
- Attributing ‘same-sex attraction’ to childhood, developmental or family issues.