The clinics are popping up, despite homosexuality being legal in the country since 1997, and the practice being banned.

Illegal, unlicenced gay ‘cure’ clinics are surfacing in Ecuador, disguised as normal rehabilitation centres. And in the centres, LGBTQ people are beaten or raped in order to ‘cure’ them.

Local rights groups say that these clinics are operating as they believe that homosexuality is a mental illness that needs to be “cured.”

Related: Nearly 700,000 adults in the US have received gay conversion therapy

Speaking to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Cayetana Salao, a project co-ordinator for the LGBTQ rights group Taller de Comunicacion Mujer said: “Corrective therapy, in mostly private and clandestine alcohol and drug addiction clinics, continues in Ecuador.”

“It’s a reality,” she added. Salao also said that she believed the reason the clinics were becoming more widespread is because Evangelical Christian groups were gaining influence.

In 2012, a change.org petition successfully got gay ‘cure’ therapy banned in Ecuador, and 207 clinics were shut down. Despite this, activists believe that there are currently around 200 clinics still operating.

Related: New petition launches to ban gay ‘cure’ therapy in UK

However, the Ecuadorian government has reputed this claim. The head of the Health Ministry’s regulatory agency, ACESS, Maria Jose Espin said: “We frequently verify with our teams that these types of establishments do not exist, where rights violations can take place.

“There are no de-homosexualisation clinics. They shouldn’t exist.” She then added that homosexuality was not a “disease.”

But, Salao says that state prosecutors have investigated six cases involving alleged human rights violations in regards to the clinics since 2012.

“No one has been found guilty or punished. We call on the judiciary to move these cases forward and hold those people responsible to account.”

Ecuador’s former Health Minister, Carina Vance Mafla, who is openly gay, also believes that the clinics still operate. She said that many clinics had received tip-offs prior to police raids, so they temporarily shut down before opening up again under different names.

However, she blamed money instead of Christian groups, as therapies cost $1,500 a month. Mafla said: “This business is very lucrative. These clinics have a lot of power, there are a lot of economic interests behind this.”

She continued, saying: “There are families using these so-called services and this has to do with a prevalent, a very homophobic … a sexist society.

“Cultural change is very difficult to produce,” she finished.

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