A Calgary filmmaker who spent three years making a documentary about the ex-gay movement in Canada says she’s not surprised by the recent arrest of a psychiatrist in Calgary who has been charged with sexually abusing a male patient.
The psychiatrist, Dr Aubrey Levin, was suspended from the University of Calgary’s medical school and charged on March 23 with sexually abusing a 36-year-old male patient. The patient secretly filmed Levin allegedly making sexual advances.
Levin, who is a former chief psychiatrist in apartheid-era South Africa, was known as Dr Shock in that country for allegedly trying to cure gay military conscripts of homosexuality in the 1960s and 70s. Some of his patients also claimed they were given chemical castrations, sex changes and a “truth drug.”
Filmmaker Christina Willings, whose documentary The Cure for Love follows the lives of people in the ex-gay movement, says it’s common for those repressing a part of their core identity to act out in unhealthy ways, particularly in situations of power.
“What I’ve experienced in my research in the ex-gay movement is that most people who practice reparative therapy and who are highly invested in trying to change other people’s orientation are repressing a part of their own core identity, and they are motivated by hatred of whatever part of themselves they deem to be vulnerable to same-sex attraction,” says Willings.
Since Levin’s arrest, it’s been reported in the media that up to 30 more patients have come forward through a police tip line. A spokesperson for the Calgary Police Service could not confirm this.
On Sunday, Anton Ferriera, a former patient of Levin, wrote in a South African newspaper about his experience under Levin’s care in 1972 in Ward 22 of Voortrekkerhoogte military hospital.
At the time, Ferriera was a conscript in the South African military, and was trying to escape punishment for going AWOL. He pleaded insanity, saying he was claustrophobic, and was sent to Levin’s ward.
“I told him (Levin) my claustrophobia story, but he didn’t seem very interested. Instead, he ordered me to strip naked. He spent what seemed forever examining my penis with his chubby fingers,” wrote Ferrier in the Times Live.
Levin told the Guardian newspaper in 2000 that he left South Africa 15 years ago because of the high crime rate. Around the same time that he emigrated to Canada, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission told Levin that he would be named as an abuser of human rights.
While in South Africa, Levin was known for treating homosexuals and drug users in the military and “deviants,” reported the Guardian.
Several of Levin’s patients in South Africa claim that the doctor subjected them to electric shocks to “cure” them of being gay. When they couldn’t be “cured,” they allege that they were chemically castrated. Levin also gave some of his patients narco-analysis in order to make them tell the truth.
In an effort to keep the allegations hidden, Levin threatened to sue media outlets. He has denied accusations of shock therapy and chemical castrations and told the Guardian newspaper in 2000 that he only treated patients who wanted to be cured.
Levin has been suspended from practicing and is being investigated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is expected to appear in court on April 8.
Filmmaker Willings points to incidents of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as evidence that reparative therapy doesn’t work and that it’s usually motivated by self-repression.
Despite this, she says the ex-gay movement is flourishing in Canada.
“It’s operating mainly under the radar, but there are ex-gay ministries operating in every province across Canada, and mainly they’re found in little non-descript strip malls,” she says.
Willings says shock therapy is not standard treatment when trying to “cure” gays in Canada, adding that behaviour modification and sensory deprivation are more prevalent.
“Some of the behaviour modification techniques they use are to teach people to look at a blue wall and tell themselves it’s yellow, and tell themselves it’s yellow, and keep telling themselves it’s yellow to try to develop that ability to control one’s thoughts and perceptions so that you can then apply that same strategy to same-sex attraction when you feel it.”