A Jerusalem court on Sunday convicted an Israeli “gay conversion” therapist of repeatedly molesting boys he was treating over several years. However, he isn’t likely to serve any jail time following a plea deal.
The Health Ministry advises against so-called “gay conversion” or “reparative” therapy, calling it scientifically dubious and potentially dangerous, but no law prohibits it. Proponents say therapy does not “convert” clients, but boosts self-esteem and masculinity, which they say can reduce homosexuality.
In Israel, practitioners say their services are in demand, mostly by Orthodox Jewish men trying to reduce their same-sex attractions so they can marry women and raise a traditional family according to their conservative religious values.
Reuven Welcher, 45, tricked two boys into believing indecent acts he performed on them were a necessary part of the therapy, according the charge sheet filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in September 2017. Unaware that they weren’t, the boys consented to the acts.
The indictment said that one of the plaintiffs met Welcher dozens of times between 2007 and 2012, including when he was a minor. During those meetings the defendant was said to have made the plaintiff dependent upon him and to have taken advantage of that.
As part of the conversion therapy, Welcher told the boy to perform tasks such as writing 40 things that make him a man, the indictment said. When Welcher wasn’t happy with the results, he would shout at the boy, humiliate him and threaten to stop the therapy.
Welcher confessed to the charges as part of a plea deal, according to which the prosecution will ask the court to sentence him to community service rather than a prison term. However, Welcher will first undergo an assessment to determine he isn’t dangerous to the public.
Attorney Or Gabbay of the prosecution said that Welcher “made use of the distress of his clients who contacted him to seek help. This is an abusive relationship that went on for years, with the sex crimes committed on many occasions during therapy sessions, in hotels and in the clinic in Welcher’s home.”
Gabbay said the plea deal took into account the opinion of the victims.
An estimated 20 to 30 licensed psychologists and social workers and 50 non-licensed therapists practice some form of conversion therapy in Israel, said Rabbi Ron Yosef of the Orthodox gay organization Hod, which calls for legislation against such therapy.
Some states in the US have banned such therapy for minors. JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, was shut for violating New Jersey consumer fraud laws by claiming therapy could “heal” homosexuality.
Leading medical organizations in the US say there is no proof sexual orientation change efforts are effective, and that therapy can reinforce self-hatred, depression and self-harm.
The Israel Psychological Association reached similar conclusions in a 2011 position paper, which the Health Ministry adopted in late 2014. But the association also endorsed a claim practitioners make, that “political correctness” likely prevents the funding and publication of studies examining the therapy’s potential effectiveness.
AP contributed to this report.