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ISTSS recently joined an Amicus Brief filed on behalf of the defendants (the Governor of New Jersey et al, and Garden State Equality) in the case of Tara King et al. to prevent the use of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) for minor children after sexual abuse.

An Amicus (“friend of the court”) Brief is a document filed by individuals or organizations not directly involved in a court case that can provide additional expertise for the court to consider in making its decision.

No one would recommend that children undergo psychological treatment to reverse their heterosexual orientation after experiencing sexual abuse from perpetrators of the opposite sex. Yet in the King et al case, one side advocates for this exact type of therapy for a child who experienced sexual abuse by a perpetrator of the same sex: that the child undergo psychological treatment to reverse the child’s existing homosexual orientation. The premise is that while heterosexuality is normal, homosexuality is a mental illness that can be “cured” with therapy.

The amicus brief makes the following points:

  • There is no credible evidence that child sexual abuse changes individuals’ sexual orientation: the general scientific consensus is that sexual orientation is determined before birth or very early in life and is largely immutable;
  • SOCE are not part of any established evidence-based treatment for children who have experienced sexual abuse: evidence-based treatments exist for children who have experienced sexual abuse including for many specific problems these children may develop (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, sexual behavior problems, maladaptive cognitions, complex trauma, etc.); there is no evidence that SOCE effectively addresses any of these problems and thus providing SOCE instead of an evidence-based treatment deprives children of effective treatment for potentially serious problems
  • SOCE pose a particular danger to children who have experienced sexual abuse: The American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry concluded that SOCE poses increased risk of depression and suicidality and familial rejection, respectively. While these are risky for any youth, youth who have experienced sexual abuse are already at heightened risk for these problems. In light of the lack of evidence for effectiveness and the increased risk, SOCE pose a particular danger to these children.

The brief was signed by a number of professionals in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. After careful review, ISTSS determined that this is a critical issue that it should also support. The case is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

About the Authors

Judith Cohen, M.D. is Medical Director of the Allegheny General Hospital Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and Professor of Psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine. She is a developer of Trauma-Focused CBT, a past member of the ISTSS Board of Directors, associate editor of Journal of Traumatic Stress, and winner of its Sarah Haley Memorial Award.

Emily B. Goldberg, Esq., practices in the field of constitutional and civil rights law. In particular, she focuses on equal protection and discrimination issues, as well as First and Fourth Amendment matters. Her work has received an A+ grade from the New Jersey Law Journal, a top 100 ranking from the American Lawyer, and a prestigious Pro Bono Award from the National Law Journal.