‘Shocking use of sexual violence to convert or punish LGBT+ people’

The Scottish and UK Governments have both committed to bringing in a ban on conversion therapy.

‘Shocking use of sexual violence to convert or punish LGBT+ people’ iStock

Around one in four LGBT+ victims of sexual violence in the UK could have been assaulted by people trying to “convert or punish” them, research suggests.

Some 23.5% of people surveyed for the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop said they believe the sexual violence they had experienced was intended to convert or punish them for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This rose to around a third if the victim was asexual (34%), non-binary (32%), a trans man (35%) or a trans woman (30%).

Respondents aged 18-24 reported the highest levels of sexual violence with the intention to convert or punish their identity among all age groups.

This suggests the practices are current rather than purely historic, Galop said, and demonstrates the need for a ban on so-called conversion therapy “without delay”.

The Scottish and UK Governments have both committed to bringing in a ban on conversion therapy.

On Monday, a Holyrood committee said quick action needs to be taken to ban conversion therapy in Scotland.

Some 1020 responses from LGBT+ people aged 16 and over in the UK were analysed for Galop’s report, including 935 responses to the conversion therapy question from victims of sexual violence.

The opt-in online survey, which was anonymous and took place in 2020, is part of a two-year research project and early findings are being published now to coincide with the end of the public consultation next week.

Galop said it was not designed to indicate prevalence of sexual violence among LGBT+ people, as the sample is not representative of this community as a whole, and should also not be taken as a definitive account of how many LGBT+ victims of sexual violence have experienced conversion practices.

This is because people who came forward to participate may be more likely to disclose their experiences, therefore the charity believes the true number of LGBT+ victims of sexual violence who have experienced conversion practices could be higher.

It said the findings mirror the experiences of its frontline workers, who hear of cases of corrective rape and other forms of assault, carried out by family and community members or arranged to be carried out by third parties.

Some 24% of LGBT+ people aged 13-25 facing violence and abuse, supported by the charity between April and September 2021, said they were currently or had previously experienced conversion attempts.

The equivalent figure for LGBT+ people of all ages supported by the charity’s specialist sexual violence service during this period was 11%.

Galop said the numbers are likely to be underestimates, as survivors do not always disclose historic experiences, and “rarely identify what has happened to them using the term ‘conversion therapy’”.

Chief executive Leni Morris said: “This is the largest study of LGBT+ victims of sexual violence in the UK to date, and the results we’ve found relating to conversion and punishment show that this is a significant and ongoing issue.

“There are assumptions and stereotypes about victims of so-called conversion therapy, but our report shows this is happening to LGBT+ people of all cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

“It also shows clearly that there is a long history of this kind of abuse against our community – and that it is still happening right now in the UK today.”

Nelson, whose name has been changed, was frequently beaten and prayed over “to get the devil out of him”.

He was referred to Galop at the age of 17 after prolonged abuse from his family and church because they suspected he was gay.

The teenager, feeling “desperate and alone”, believed he would be sent back to Nigeria to marry a woman as soon as he finished his A-levels.

His advocate assessed his situation as high risk and he was placed with a supportive foster family, with the aim of completing his exams and going to university.

He told the charity: “I probably wouldn’t be where I am now without you.”

Jayne Ozanne, a former LGBT government adviser who survived 20 years of conversion therapy, said the findings are “truly shocking” and called for the Government to introduce a comprehensive ban with “no exceptions, no loopholes”.

She said: “Behind each statistic is a life that has been deeply traumatised by this horrific abuse, conducted for no other reason than that the individual concerned did not conform to their abuser’s view of ‘normal’.

“Sexual violence in any form is totally abhorrent, but when it is done on the grounds of discrimination with an intent to force someone to change then it is doubly so.

“It is an act of evil that the Government must move swiftly and decisively to stop.”

In November, the Scottish Government said an expert group was being set up to advise the Scottish Government on how to ban conversion therapy by the end of 2023.

Joe FitzPatrick MSP, convener of Holyrood’s Equalities Committee, said: “Any attempts to change someone’s gender or sexuality is wrong and that is why we believe that nothing less than a complete ban will suffice.

“There is therefore no time to waste and we must focus our efforts on Scotland-specific legislation to end this practice.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Physical or sexual violence towards LGBT people is a crime.

“We are taking action to ensure the most serious sexual and violent offenders spend longer in prison, and have committed to go further by banning the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.”

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