Photographer Paola Peredes recreates images depicting the brutal horrors of gay-conversion rehab facilities.
Back in 2013 a friend has told Paola about the violent Ecuadorian gay conversion therapy clinics that claim to “cure” homosexuality using methods like starvation, abuse, and “corrective rape.” She set out to expose the brutal abuse that goes on inside through her photos series, Until You Change.
Drawing from personal accounts and stories of former patients, Paola, 31, pieced together why some “rehab” patients never made it back alive. She spent six months interviewing one woman who had been lock up in one of these clinics for months.
“These images allow us to see what was never meant to be seen,” writes Paola, “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.”
“The treatments include beatings and withholding of food; they are splashed with ice-cold water, tied up and forced into prayer. In the past there were reports of electric shock therapy and many cases of corrective rape – for men and women.
“There have been cases of people going missing after entering these clinics,” Paola, who studied graphic design before moving to London on a photography scholarship told Huck Magazine. “The treatments include beatings and withholding of food; they are splashed with ice-cold water, tied up and forced into prayer. In the past there were reports of electric shock therapy and many cases of corrective rape – for men and women.”
In Ecuador approximately 200 facilities exist to “cure” gay men, women and transexuals. Clinics like these don’t just exist in Ecuador, but also in the US, across Europe and South America.
“The thought that I could be locked up in one of these clinics myself lingered in my mind for years and I think, deep down, I knew I had to create something about it,” Paola said.
Paola researched and investigated these facilities over the course of months. She found and interviewed former patients and got testimonials of the abuse inside.
The gay conversion clinics operate under the guise of treatment facilities for alcoholics and drug addicts. However, they apply the same brutal methods to gays, pregnant teens and even prostitutes who have been admitted by their parents.
Paola says that these facilities are highly religious and there’s only one way out: successful rehabilitation. There were reports of electric shock therapy and many cases of corrective rape for men and women.
In order to protect her sources and not put their identities at risk or force them to relive their trama, Paola decided to subject herself to what they’d been through. She decided to see a clinic up close.
Undercover with a hidden microphone, Paola went with her parents, who posed as potential clients, to see a gay conversion clinic first hand.
“Honestly, I was terrified: sweating profusely and shaking a bit the whole time,” she says, adding that the woman who provided a tour around the clinic was the same intimidating figure her sources talked about in their interviews.
“What shocked me the most was when I saw the girls,” says Paola. “They had been forced to wear makeup and my informants had described it perfectly: bright red lips, pink cheeks and blue eye-shadow.”
“After the extensive research and interviews with activists, organizations and lawyers, I have come to learn that closing these places is almost impossible. They operate like a mafia: with a giant network and a lot of corruption,” Paola added.
“The only thing we can do is educate people; teach acceptance and tolerance. And the only thing I can do with my images is create awareness. In a way it makes me bitter to think that it’s not enough.”