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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 3, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 27
Reparative therapy is consumer fraud, NJ court says
Section One
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Reparative therapy is consumer fraud, NJ court says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Reparative therapy is consumer fraud, a New Jersey jury ruled on June 25. The decision came in a suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law center (SPLC) against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a group claiming to convert men from Gay to straight.

Reparative therapy for minors was outlawed in New Jersey in 2013, and the law was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals last year. Reparative therapy for adults was still legal, but the jury's finding now throws its legality into question.

Sometimes also called 'conversion therapy,' the practice often involves aversion therapy, humiliation and even physical assault of Gays by so-called therapists. In the New Jersey case, clients were required to strip in front of other men, reenact traumatic childhood experiences and beat effigies of their mothers.

After only three hours of deliberation, the jury agreed with SPLC that JONAH, JONAH owners Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Burk, and 'life coach' Alan Downing 'engaged in unconscionable commercial practices' and misrepresented their services.

JONAH and Downing were ordered to refund thousands of dollars paid by former clients Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck, Chaim Levin, and parents Jo Bruck and Bella Levin for the individual and group counseling sessions and a so-called 'journey into manhood' camping weekend.

Unger was awarded $17,950. Chaim Levin got $650, and his mother Bella got an additional $4,000. Bruck's mother Jo was awarded $500.

Downing charged $60 to $100 for group and individual sessions but remitted 20% to JONAH to help defray its administrative costs.

At trial, attorney James Bromley, representing the plaintiffs, accused Goldberg of lying to his clients - three Orthodox Jews and a Mormon - who were desperate to conform to the expectations of their religious communities that they would marry and have children.

They were lured by Goldberg's false promise that JONAH's therapy had a two-thirds success rate, Bromley said.

Bromley also revealed details of the 'therapy sessions.' Chaim Levin was made to relive childhood sexual abuse by a relative. Downing coached Unger to blame his mother for making him Gay, then gave him a tennis racket and told him to beat a pillow while imagining he was hitting her. During weekend retreats and in group sessions, clients were encouraged to undress to rid themselves of 'body shame' and masturbate to 'express their manhood.'

A former president of the American Psychiatric Association, Carol Bernstein, also testified, comparing conversion therapy counselors 'to amateur surgeons operating on the minds of young Gay men.'

'This is a momentous event in the history of the LGBT rights movement,' said SPLC deputy director David Dinielli, who served as lead attorney for the plaintiffs. 'The jury agreed not only is this based on lies, but it is an unconscionable business practice.'

The legal battle is not over, Dinielli continued. He said SPLC would now ask the court for an injunction to stop JONAH from operating. They will also seek the payment of their attorneys' fees, which is permitted under the consumer fraud act.

'This is something brutal based on lies, and it needs to stop,' he said.

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