Thinking about harm

Jun 15, 2021 by

by Martin Davie:

In his recent article on the issue of the proposed banning of conversion therapy published on the Via Media website, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, argues that in thinking about this issue we need to focus on the issue of harm. He calls for a ‘victim centred approach’ that focusses on ‘the severity and durability of the harm done, not whether that damage was done by prayer, hypnosis or psychological techniques.’ [1]

As I read it, his argument seems to be that there is ‘a massive pile of evidence’ that all forms of conversion therapy cause harm and that therefore we should simply get on and ban them.

I have two problems with this argument.

First, it is not clear that the massive pile of evidence to which he refers actually exists.

At the time of the General Synod debate on conversion therapy in 2017, Peter Ould pointed out that Synod members needed to be wary of the claims put forward in a paper from Jayne Ozanne about the harm done by Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE). Having surveyed the relevant evidence, his conclusion was that:

‘The overwhelming majority of ‘proof’ that is offered to support the idea that SOCE harm people is both anecdotal in nature and lacks any independent assessment of the alleged harm. Often, as in Shidlo and Shroder 2002, the raw data reveals more than the headlines and indicates complexity and nuance which needs to be taken into account. Finally, leading secular therapeutic organisations recognise that the level of research that is required to make a definitive declaration of the outcomes of SOCE has yet to be undertaken.’ [2]

Read here

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