June 26, 2015
A New Jersey jury Thursday found a gay conversion therapy group guilty of consumer fraud.
According to NJ.com, the landmark decision is the first case in the nation to put the controversial practice on trial, concluding that the founders of the Jersey City-based non-profit Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) “engaged in unconscionable commercial practices” and misrepresented their services.
The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of three former clients of JONAH- Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck and Chaim Levin - and the mothers of the latter two men - Jo Bruck and Bella Levin.
The verdict requires JONAH to refund a total of $72,400 in damages to the plaintiffs -- three times the amount paid for JONAH’s program, as well as additional costs one plaintiff paid for subsequent therapy to recover, Mother Jones reported.
According court testimony obtained by Mother Jones, Chaim Levin, now age 26, recalled a therapy exercise in which he was “instructed to make a negative comment about himself before removing an article of clothing, repeating the process until he was naked, at which point he was told to touch his private parts.”
During group therapy, the plaintiffs said they were allegedly encouraged to reenact scenes of past sexual abuse.
A judge is expected to rule on SPLC's request to revoke JONAH's license at a later date. Currently, New Jersey, California, Oregon and the District of Columbia have laws banning licensed conversion therapists from working with minors.