“I was sexually assaulted in a drug addiction treatment center with ayahuasca syrup”

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            <img class="js-image-replace" alt="Rebecca" src="https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/320/cpsprodpb/12463/production/_110515847_b66c42ae-b4c9-426c-8546-52fd4ee22559.jpg" width="976" height="549"/>



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                Rebecca was the only woman at the ayahuasca party when she was in the "spiritual spa"
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    </figure><p class="story-body__introduction">The narcotic properties of the popular drug "Ayahuasca" attract more tourists every day. It is said to be a spiritual treatment and helps treat addiction, depression and trauma. But there are those who say that there are frightening and gloomy aspects of the sessions taking this drug.

Rebecca first tried this drug as a passing whim when she was traveling in Peru in 2015.

“I thought it was interesting and I thought I’d try it,” says Rebecca (a pseudonym for a young New Zealand woman in her twenties), so I looked for a suitable resort and found one of them. It was amazing at first sight. ”

Ayahuasca syrup can stimulate seeing things like snakes, palaces and strange creatures, and evoke long-forgotten memories. Like many of those who drank this drink, Rebecca’s two pupils expanded and looked as if she was looking away as she regained her experience.

“It was as if someone was leading me very gently and kindly through some of the terrible experiences that I have had in the past,” says Rebecca. “After returning home after that experience, I assumed that my relationships were much stronger. It was much easier to exchange feelings of love.”

“They say that taking Ayahuasca is equivalent to a 20-year period of psychotherapy, and I totally believe that.” Usually, this drink is taken during night rituals under the supervision of a spiritual healer, sometimes called a “shaman”.

The healer or treatment begins by drinking brown, viscous liquid (a soaked plant extracted from two plants in the Amazon jungle), and then introduced to the ritual participants.

This drink has been used by local Amazon tribes for centuries, but now there is a boom in what has come to be known as “ayahuasca tourism”, with more and more resorts dedicated to this purpose.

Often visitors come in for help in dealing with mental health problems. A growing body of scientific research suggests that ayahuasca may be an effective treatment.

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             <span class="off-screen">Image source</span>
             <span class="story-image-copyright">Alamy</span>

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                Prepare a ayahuasca and chakrona syrup before a treatment session in Peru
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    </figure><p>About half an hour or so after the ritual begins, the drink begins to take effect and the spiritual healer begins to sing and chant hymns, known as "Icarus", which guide participants through what they see. Usually, ritual participants reach the stage of purification through vomiting or diarrhea.

When Rebecca first went to the resort, she was the only woman there, and she noticed that the therapist was giving her special attention.

“The way he treated me was completely different, but I did not feel suspicious at the time, but when I think now, I am suspicious,” she says.

A year later, Rebecca returned to the same place in Peru after she became more experienced in drinking ayahuasca, and the spiritual healer himself was still leading those celebrations.

And she says, once again, she was treated differently from anyone else. There was a lot of flattery. Then the therapist set out to tell her.

She says, “He continued to tell me that he had many problems, and he said that he was having problems with his wife, that she had not fulfilled her sexual duties towards him, and that I was the one who could meet his sexual needs.”

Rebecca was then twenty years old, and the therapist was in her 50s.

“He also promised me to give me a lot of spiritual strength and sessions if I accepted to have a relationship with him while his relationship with his wife still exists.”

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Rebecca says the therapist forced her to have sex with him and sexually abused her.

“It is disgusting because he was a spiritual healer,” I thought, morally better than others, and that was the reason I trusted him, “says Rebecca.

After being assaulted, Rebecca left that place and the entire country: “I booked a trip and got out of that hell.”

She left the country with painful memories and feelings. “Disgust, disgust, frustration, confusion, and above that the question she had was why a spiritual healer was doing this, why was the teacher doing this and why were they taking advantage of their position in this way.”

The shaman who assaulted Rebecca on his website still heads the healers at the five-star resort on ratings websites.

“It is still there … and there are other centers that I know and are still working in, in which several women have been sexually assaulted,” says Rebecca, with anger and her hands shaken.

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Sexual assault experiences are widespread and we have heard many allegations against many therapists and have read numerous testimonies about sexual assaults in Internet forums.

One of the names that is repeatedly repeated is Gallermo Arevalo, a well-known therapist honored by the House of Representatives of Peru for his role in achieving sustainable development.

A woman in her forties, we call her here Anna, says he has “visited Canada several times.”

“Big and very profitable parties were held, the stands were filling up quickly, the cost of meeting Galermo was 300 Canadian dollars. He had social status. It was an honor for me to sit beside him at a party.”

Anna, who had long been interested in alternative medicine, was hoping that the ayahuasca sessions would help her treat heroin addiction.

At first she was a fan of Galermo. And, like many people, Anna was amazed by the presence he enjoyed and leading the party. He was enchanted by the attendance.

“He is a good healer,” said the audience.

But a session seven years ago changed Anna’s opinion radically.

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    </figure><p>"The hall was completely dark, with no windows, and it was crowded."

“I was under the influence of a drink, when I heard different voices, some were crying and some were uttering utterly meaningless words, it was purification or groaning, even if I could say something, no one would respond to me.”

Anna was going through a difficult time, lying on her back while groaning and moaning, Galermo came and sat with her, at first, “I felt relieved thinking that it would help me,” according to Anna.

“He started with some hymns, then he put his hands on my stomach above clothes, and that was normal, then he put his hand under my pants, I had a cold feeling, I was freezing from the intensity of fear, then he put his hand under my shirt around my breasts,” as Anna describes.

And you remember what I thought at that moment: “Damn why all of that, I have a sense of uncertainty and confusion.” It took six years for Anna to find out what happened to her.

“Women are prepared to accept this behavior. For me, she has a history of drug addiction and bad relationships with men I have tolerated in my life, and a history of sexual assault during childhood was my normal feeling as if it was normal.”

“I was feeling my need for the medication that was helping me, I didn’t want to speak for fear of being fired from the sessions and from the group and thus the medication was stopped.”

             <span class="off-screen">Image source</span>
             <span class="story-image-copyright">Getty Images</span>

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                Ayahuasca party in Colombia
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    </figure><h2 class="story-body__crosshead">Risks and benefits</h2><p>While initial scientific studies have indicated that ayahuasca syrup can have therapeutic benefits, it contains DMT which is illegal in the UK, and there are potential risks to it.

A report released in 2015 stated that six volunteers suffering from depression showed a decrease in symptoms after consuming this drink.

Another study indicated two years later that this drink augurs well as a treatment for eating disorders. Psychologists have also speculated that it could help PTSD sufferers.

The British Foreign Office warns against participating in these rituals and said that some “have suffered from serious illnesses that have reached death” after participating in the ayahuska sessions.

She notes that the resorts are usually far from populated areas and that some have simple medical facilities and some lack them.

Around the same time, a group calling itself “Ayahuasca Community Awareness Canada” that included the names of senior academics, wrote a letter about Galermo behavior and distributed it among those interested in these sessions.

The group said it did so because of numerous complaints against the therapist, citing reports of inappropriate sexual behavior from him.

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             <span class="story-image-copyright">Getty Images</span>

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                The ayahuasca party
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    </figure><p>When the names of the signatories were added to the letter in 2015 and made public, Galermo stopped visiting Canada to lead the ayahuska sessions.

But it seems that his activity was covering all parts of the world during those years and is now residing in a resort in Peru. The place was called Anaconda, but when we were there as the first group of foreign customers, it was named Bina Shennan.

They were flying around us in the dining room, and when we raised the issue of Galermo’s behavior, a 70-year-old white-haired man with a golden age cried out: “I do not accept these allegations because they are incorrect, sometimes people imagine things.”

He says he heard about the message sent by members of the Ayahuska group in Canada, but he never read it.


He added, “I am not concerned with the letter because it contains mere allegations, and it does not bother me because these allegations will not lead to my death.”

He continued that the allegations against him are only “imaginations of a sick person.”

“When you touch a person who was a victim of abuse or rape in the past, he imagines that you are doing the same and this is what happens, I understand that.”

When we specifically presented Anna’s claim against him, he said he did not remember touching any patient during parties he had held in Canada, and she also imagined that.

Anna answers, “What is the reaction of his ilk other than lying and denial, because by his own admission he will have to take responsibility and the consequence of his behavior is that.”


What about his claim that she imagined sexual assault? Anna says, “It looks like to me setting fire to my body after gasoline was poured on me,” that is how you feel.

Although Galermo denied his involvement in any sexual assault, he admitted that the therapists working under his administration had sex with “patients”.

He claims that he no longer deals with these patients, but in some cases it was the patients who initiated the relationship.

“When Western women visit the region, they also look for spiritual healers,” he says.

Anna’s experience with Ayahuasca did not end despite the abuse she had received from Gallermo, because she did not want to give up the benefits of this drink and continued to take it under the supervision of other healers.

She says that in 2014 she was raped at a ayahuasca hearing in Peru by a therapist related to the family of Galermo.

“I was frozen in my place, and I let him do whatever he wanted … I think he raped me four or five times, and I noticed that he was doing the same thing with others.”

Anna does not remember much about that experience, she was in shock, she said.

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             <span class="story-image-copyright">Getty Images</span>

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                Guillermo Arevalo in 2004
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    </figure><p>"I began to suffer from debilitating symptoms, relapsed, became addicted to fentanyl, and took an overdose that almost killed me."

“I had been blaming myself for a long time, why I couldn’t say anything, why I couldn’t move and why I allowed him to do this to me, it was all on my mind.”

We spoke to another woman who was in the same resort as Anna and his administration said that the therapist was fired due to complaints from other customers.

We cannot mention his name because despite all our efforts, we could not reach him to give him the opportunity to respond to these allegations.

Emily Sinclair, a British doctoral student doing research on Ayahuasca syrup, is one of a group trying to raise awareness of the problem of sexual assaults in ayahuasca syrup sessions.

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                Ayahuasca for sale at the Pelin Market in Iquitos, Peru
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    </figure><p>By working with the Chakrona Institute, an organization to exchange research on plant and drug drugs, Sinclair helped prepare a set of guides to raise awareness about possible sexual assaults during treatment with this drug.

The guidelines highlight common scenarios during which attacks occur. They also encourage people to drink with their trust and search for resorts through the review sites before they visit.

Sinclair is distributing the little green brochure to cafes, tourist offices and Ayahuasca centers in the Iquitos region of Peru known as the Ayahuasca Tourism Center.

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    </figure><p>  "Many of the abuses that we discovered happen," she says, "during treatment processes for individuals where a woman may be required to remove her clothes without it being necessary." "And when she is in this situation, she does not know whether or not this is normal."

Sinclair notes that not only are local healers mistreating Westerners, but this happens between different cultures and within one culture.

“But one of the big problems is that many people who come here carry a romantic picture of the spiritual healers, the shaman. It is very easy to take advantage of this picture.”

“And some there have a stereotype of Western women and culture.”

             <span class="off-screen">Image source</span>
             <span class="story-image-copyright">Emily Sinclair</span>

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                Emily Sinclair
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    </figure><p>"If he touches your body and says that his wife does not mind having sex with other women, then he encourages silence and secrecy between you and says that he wants to teach you" the magic of love ", and he may say that having sex with him will increase your strength and energy. All of these are examples What women told us in the context of the conversation that took place during these situations.

Those who have experienced sexual violence have difficulty speaking openly. Moreover, there is a strong feeling in the world of Ayahuasca that any kind of negative publicity can lead to government intervention, which creates additional pressure to remain silent.


But Rebecca and Anna spoke out publicly because they hoped this would protect other women.

“I think the only thing we can do is talk about it publicly, to make sure that people know that something like this might happen,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca says that she had undergone prolonged treatment and felt very sad after being assaulted.


It was hard for her to trust any therapist again, but she is now back in Peru, where she is researching Ayahuasca for her master’s thesis on alternative medicine.

“Regardless of everything that happened, it is clear that Ayahuasca is great because I still go back to it,” she says, smiling.

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