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Speed up ‘conversion-abuse’ ban, says Bishop of Manchester

09 June 2021

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A BAN on conversion therapy should be expedited, with the consultation announced by the Government in May (News, 14 May) kept “short and to the point”, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has said.

Writing for the Via Media blog, Dr Walker cautions against a consultation becoming an excuse for “foot-dragging. We are never going to achieve legislation that everyone agrees is perfect, especially when balancing potentially conflicting human rights. Sometimes we need to just get on with things, and make any necessary changes later, in the light of experience.”

He warns that if the consultation spends “too much time and effort on trying to define exactly how far a perpetrator can go, or what procedures they can use, before breaking the law. . . What matters in a victim-centred approach to law is the severity and durability of the harm done, not whether that damage was done by prayer, hypnosis or psychological techniques.”

He goes on to question whether children and young people can give consent to conversion therapy: “There is a deep irony in the fact that the voices who argue most stridently that a teenager cannot give consent to life changing gender therapies, in the highly controlled and monitored environment of the NHS, are often the very voices who believe that same teenager can give free and informed consent to Conversion Therapy, in the far less transparent and accountable environment of a prayer meeting or attempted exorcism.”

The General Synod voted to call on the Government to ban on conversion therapy in 2017 (News, 14 July 2017).

Dr Walker, who writes that he prefers the term conversion “abuse” rather than “therapy”, told The Guardian on Wednesday: “Where activity has harmed someone, the person who has caused the harm should face prosecution.” Such activity should include prayer aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation, he said: not “gentle, non-coercive prayer, but where there is a level of power imbalance and a level of force”.

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