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Rights groups hail Ecuador's crackdown on lesbian 'torture clinics'

Women’s rights groups are claiming victory in their efforts to get the government of Ecuador to shut down underground clinics that they say used torture techniques to try to “cure” lesbians.

Fundacion Causana, Taller de Comunicacion Mujer and Artikulacion Esporadika, a coalition of Ecuadorian women’s rights activists, started an online campaign on Change.org after working with women who had escaped what they call “torture clinics.” Many of the women cited physical and psychological abuse, including verbal threats, shackling, days without food or water, sexual abuse, and physical torture in efforts to make them “straight.”

“After years of campaigning about the practice of torture rehab clinics that claim to cure homosexuality, the Ecuadorian government has committed to deconstructing the belief that homosexuality is a sickness,” Fundacion Causana representative Karen Barba said in a press release issued by Change.org on Tuesday. “Using Change.org, we were able to achieve victory in closing down ex-gay torture clinics.”

The online petition to close the clinics drew more than 100,000 signatures from across the world.

Earlier this week, President Rafael Correa also appointed Carina Vance, a lesbian and a gay-rights activist, as the new health minister. Vance is former executive director of Fundacion Causana.

Vance succeeds Minister of Health Dr. David Chirriboga, who before stepping down last week announced the government would investigate and close all such clinics in the country, launch a national advertising and awareness campaign against homophobia, and develop a crisis hotline for victims, according to Change.org.

“The Ministry of Public Health, the governing body of Ecuador’s health sector, is committed to strengthening the measures and institutions that contribute to the eradication of abusive practices such as the supposed treatment of homosexuality,” Chirriboga was quoted as saying. “The Ecuadorian government rejects such practices as criminal and in direct conflict with the individual freedoms granted to all our citizens.”

Thirty so-called reparative therapy clinics were shut down by Correa's government in September after pressure from activists, including Vance, who will continue the campaign against remaining clinics as health minister.

A story on cnn.com on Thursday highlighted stories of alleged abuse by women who visited the clinics. The woman told CNN that her family contacted a center that promised to “cure” her of her homosexuality when she was 23. 

The woman, now 28, said she was kept in handcuffs for more than three months in a “therapeutic” center called Puente a la Vida, or Bridge of Life. Concha says she endured all kinds of demeaning and abusive treatment during the 18 months she was held there, according to CNN.

The clinic has since been shut down. CNN said efforts to reach its former director for a comment were unsuccessful.

Under Vance's leadership as health minister, three raids have already taken place in the Quito area, and dozens of women have been rescued, CNN reported.

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