Barbaric conversion therapy practice forced to pay millions after patients allege abuse

·4-min read

A New Jersey appeal court has upheld a massive $3.5 million fine against a conversion therapy practice, which was shut down after former patients alleged widespread abuse.

On Tuesday (6 July), the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld a previous judgement against Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) – formerly known as Jews Offering New Alternatives (JONAH). JONAH was a nonprofit that claimed to be able to cure patients of same-sex attractions.

Former clients and practitioners have been locked in a heated legal battle for years. The Southern Poverty Law Center, who brought the initial lawsuit on behalf of several former JONAH clients and their families, announced the conversion therapy provider had lost its latest appeal.

As such, the plaintiffs are entitled to claim millions in attorney’s fees from the original lawsuit because JONAH did not shut its doors and stop promoting conversion therapy.

Scott McCoy, SPLC’s interim deputy legal director of LGBTQ rights and special litigation, said: “This case was always about protecting vulnerable people and families against the purveyors of fraudulent, harmful and ineffective so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy.”

He added that conversion therapy is “fraudulent” because it’s “based on the lie that LGBTQ people can and should be fixed”. McCoy then vowed SPLC and “other allies” will not stop “until we eradicate these dangerous practices in New Jersey” and across the US.

Chaim Levin JONAH
Chaim Levin poses in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on 3 February 2012. He was raised in the Chabad community and spent nearly two years in JONAH. (Photo by Matt McClain for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Chaim Levin, who was raised in the Chabad community and spent years in JONAH, also welcomed the recent ruling.

He wrote on Twitter: “Let this serve as a warning and a reminder to all providers of so-called conversion ‘therapy’ that by continuing to engage in this practice, a practice that is fraudulent, ineffective and ruins people’s lives, that they are playing with fire and that one day karma will find them.”

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The landmark case was the US’s first consumer fraud lawsuit against conversion therapy

In 2015, the New Jersey Superior Court found that JONAH had violated the state’s consumer fraud law and engaged in “unconscionable commercial practices”. The court also ordered the conversion therapy provider to permanently shut down and dissolve its organisation, according to reports by The Guardian.

The Guardian reported four former clients of JONAH alleged that organisers had engaged in a range of horrific behaviours and so-called therapeutic techniques. The clients claimed that therapy participants were instructed to remove all their clothing in group sessions and beat an effigy of their mothers with a tennis racket.

They also assorted clients were called homophobic slurs during mock gym classes and other sessions, according to The Guardian.

If it did not cease operation, the court ruled JONAH would have to pay $3.5 million to the plaintiffs.

But a couple of years later, in 2019, the same court found JONAH had violated the legal ruling by continuing to operate under a new name, JIFGA. As such, the Superior Court ordered the conversion therapy provider to pay up to $3.5 million, according to NBC News.

JONAH appealed against the ruling, but the appealed court just ruled against them again.

But Michael Laffey, who represented JONAH and its owners, said the latest ruling contained “clear factual errors”, according to Law.com. He added his clients are “considering their options”.

Conversion therapy has been denounced by several leading medical groups

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) said in 2018 that it strongly opposes conversion therapy. It reaffirmed its 1998 statement that the leading professional group “opposes any psychiatric treatment” that is “based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder” or based on the assumption the individual “should change his or her homosexual orientation”.

LGBT+ demonstration conversion therapy UK
LGBT+ supporters hold placards demonstration against the use of conversion therapy outside UK Cabinet office. (Photo by May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Earlier this year, the APA also adopted a resolution rebuking conversion therapy for trans people. It added that conversion therapy only served to promote “stigma and discrimination against transgender and gender diverse people”.

In 2020, a United Nations (UN) expert called for a global ban on conversion therapy, saying the practice is “inherently degrading and discriminatory” toward LGBT+ people. Earlier this year, the UN also urged the UK government to ban the discredited practice and said conversion therapy has “haunting consequences” for LGBT+ individuals.

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