CAPE TOWN June 16 1997 - SAPA


The former SA Defence Force tried to "reprogramme" gay recruits through the use of electric shock treatment and Playboy centrefolds, according to a submission due to be presented at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's health hearing on Tuesday.

The submission, by the Health and Human Rights Project, claims military psychiatrist Dr Aubrey Levin was a key figure in the "torture" of gay men in the military.

Levin is believed to be one of 24 doctors who have been warned by the Truth Commission that they may be named at this week's hearing as perpetrators of human rights abuses.

The submission by the HHRP, a joint initiative of the department of community health at the University of Cape Town and Cape Town's trauma centre for victims of violence and torture, relies on anecdotal reports for its information.

The HHRP said Levine was first named in a December 1986/January 1987 edition of the War Resister, a publication of the Committee of SA War Resisters.

According to the publication, Levin was chief psychiatrist at the military hospital at Voortrekkerhoogte near Pretoria in the 1970s, when he practiced aversion therapy with gay conscripts who were admitted to the psychiatric ward.

Electrodes were strapped to the arms of the subject and wires leading from these were in turn connected to a machine. The subject was then shown a picture of a naked man and encouraged to fantasise freely.

While he was doing this, he would be subjected to electric shocks.

"The increase in the current would cause the muscles of the forearm to contract - an extremely painful sensation," the article said.

When the subject was screaming with pain, the current would be switched off and a colour Playboy centrefold substituted for the previous pictures.

"The pscyhiatrist (in most cases Levine) would then verbally describe the woman portrayed in glowing and positive terms. Sessions were held twice daily for three to four days."

The HHRP said although the subjects had to give their consent, most were between the age of 18 and 24 and were still coming to terms with their sexualtiy.

It said the practice of aversion therapy appeared to stop when Levine left the hospital.

The HHRP submission did not say whether Levine had borrowed his ideas from comic writer Tom Sharpe who wrote a book in the 1970s about white policemen in the fictional South African town of Piemburg being subjected to shock therapy while looking at pictures of naked black women.

South African Press Association, 1997
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