Conversion practices research: Summary

Note from Te Kāhui Tika Tangata | Human Rights Commission

This is a summary of the journal article Conversion practices in Aotearoa New Zealand: Developing a holistic response to spiritual abuse. Links to the article are provided at the end of this document.

Please note that this paper discusses conversion practices, which are deliberate actions to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. This paper may therefore be upsetting to some people. Support is available from the following organisations:

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata | Human Rights Commission:

Outline Aotearoa:

Background

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata | Human Rights Commission commissioned Kaitiaki Research and Evaluation to undertake research with survivors of conversion practices.  Conversion practices are deliberate actions to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. These practices are ineffective and can cause serious harm.  As a result, they were made unlawful in Aotearoa New Zealand through the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Act 2022. The Human Rights Act 1993 was also amended to allow the Commission to receive complaints of conversion practices and to provide a dispute resolution service to those who have experienced this.  The purpose of the commissioned research was to understand survivors’ experiences and what kind of support would be useful.  The findings will be used to help inform the Commission’s services as well as to share with other organisations that can help to support survivors.

Method

Interviews were conducted with 23 survivors who experienced conversion practices in a religious setting[1]. A range of non-heterosexual interviewers were available for interviewees to choose. The data collected from the interviews were analysed to identify key themes.

Findings

A summary of the main findings are as follows:

  1. Religious conversion practices are seen by survivors as a kind of spiritual abuse. Some survivors related their experiences to that of family violence survivors in the way that they felt trapped and unable to escape their circumstances.  Survivors felt trapped in three key ways:
  2. Spiritually (e.g. survivors being told they were mentally unwell or possessed; survivors being punished by being removed from the faith community)
  3. Socially (e.g. isolation, lack of integration into queer networks, homelessness, financial debt, delay in learning life skills to function independently)
  4. Structurally (e.g. inadequate legislation, which results in religious conversion practices being hid from the public; lack of systemic intervention and support; mental health issues; lack of access to suitably trained medical and mental health professionals)
  5. Survivors spoke about the range of interventions that are needed to escape religious conversion practices. These interventions are required at all three time points for people who experience religious conversion practices:
  6. while people are still trapped in the abusive environment
  7. immediately after leaving the abusive environment
  8. throughout survivors’ healing journeys.
  9. These escape interventions were framed by survivors as a ‘pipeline to safety’. This pipeline needs to provide a range of support for survivors. This support includes the following elements:
  1. a dedicated agency to support conversion practices survivors
  2. a system to ensure that survivors’ basic needs are met
  3. awareness-raising so that people understand that what they are experiencing is religious conversion practices (i.e. a form of spiritual abuse)
  4. intervention pathways for survivors to safely leave the abusive setting
  5. access to medical and mental health professionals who are appropriately trained to respond to spiritual abuse
  6. supportive communities, such as survivor peer-led networks
  7. harm prevention through dialogue with faith organisations.

Full report

This summary comes from the full research paper:

Roguski, M and Atwool, N. (2024). Conversion practices in Aotearoa New Zealand: Developing a holistic response to spiritual abuse. Plos One.

The article can be accessed on the Human Rights Commission website (https://tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/conversion-practices).

This research report complements the Commission’s Conversion Practices Insights Report with recommendations for those who support survivors. It will be published on the Commission’s website.


[1] Two interviewees experienced conversion practices in a non-religious setting.  The data from these interviews are not included in these analyses.  This was because their experiences were different from those in faith-based settings and therefore require separate analysis.

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