Man forced to hurt himself with elastic band and take cold showers during conversion therapy

Robert Williams conversion therapy survivors

A man who endured gay conversion therapy a decade ago went undercover to expose Australian churches that still practice the debunked and traumatising “therapy”.

Robert Williams contributed to a three-month long investigation by 60 Minutes Australia by discretely attending one-on-one sessions and group therapy.

He told 60 Minutes that he had attended Melbourne’s City Life Church ten years ago, where he asked a minister for guidance on his “homosexual thoughts”.

“They got me to do an elastic band on my wrist,” he said. “Every time I had a sexual thought I had to ping it. And if I had sexual thoughts at night I had to take a cold shower.”

Eventually Williams came out to his entire church, including his wife, but said that there were “big consequences to pay”.

He said he is still traumatised by the experience, adding: “I lost everything. I lost my children, I lost my wife, I lost my security, I lost my identity – I had to rebuild the whole lot.”

By going undercover for 60 Minutes, he said he discovered that methods of conversion therapy have changed, and that now the practice is much more insidious.

He found that the focus now is choosing celibacy over homosexuality, rather than trying to make victims straight, but he said it is no less dangerous.

John Smid, former head of conversion therapy institution Love in Action.

John Smid, former head of Love in Action. (60 Minutes Australia)

UK study found that one in five conversion therapy survivors had attempted suicide.

60 Minutes approached Martyn Iles, the managing director of anti-gay Christian group Australian Christian Lobby, to put to him the accusations of harmful conversion therapy.

Iles said: “It says that it’s a sin to act on any sexual desire outside of marriage, which is a union of one man, one woman, to the exclusion of all others for life.

“That’s the standard, and there’s no getting around it. And if people don’t like the standard there’s no need for them whatsoever to be part of the church.”

He said practices exposed in the investigation were “voluntary counselling” and a “significant part of the Christian faith”.

John Smid, the now out former head of conversion therapy institution Love In Action, also spoke to the TV show, and said: “The over-arching message is sexual brokenness.

“We’ve clearly taught that homosexuality was caused as a result of family dysfunction, as a result of wounds, as a result of trauma, sexual trauma, sexual abuse.

“We taught that homosexuality was a product of brokenness.”

A UK survey of conversion therapy survivors released earlier this year found that one in five people who had experienced the practice had attempted suicide.

Despite this, conversion therapy remains legal in Australia, and in most parts of the world.