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Debate: Castration of sex offenders

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Should men found guilty of sex crimes be chemically castrated?

Background and context

Many people consider sexual abuse one of the worst crimes a person can commit. In these circumstances, it has been proposed by some that such an offender should be punished, normally in addition to a jail term, by castration.
Castration can involve the surgical removal of the testes. Or, "chemical castration" using hormones to dramatically reduce testosterone levels in order to effectively render the sex offender impotent. What is to be counted as a sufficiently serious ‘sex crime’, the type of castration to be used, and the circumstance under which it would operate are all variables in this debate. Nevertheless, the question of whether castrating sex offenders can ever be an appropriate societal response is widely debate. The Czech Republic was one of the first countries to legalize chemical castration. Poland[1], South Korea, Germany, Denmark, France, and Australia have followed. In the United States, states that have legalized "chemical castration" include Georgia, Iowa, Oregon, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Montana, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida.[2]
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Effectiveness: Has castration of sex offenders been effective?

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Pro

  • Castration of sex offenders has been effective Dr. Martin Holly, a leading sexologist and psychiatrist who is director of the Psychiatric Hospital Bohnice in Prague, said none of the nearly 100 sex offenders who had been physically castrated had committed further offenses. Furthermore, a Danish study of 900 castrated sex offenders in the 1960s suggested the rate of repeat offenses dropped after surgical castration to 2.3 percent from 80 percent.[3] In addition, a 1981 study conducted with 48 males with long standing histories of sexually deviant behaviour, found that 40 of these individuals given doses of medroxyprogesterone acetate for as long as 12 months had diminished desires for deviant sexual behaviour, less frequent sexual fantasies, and greater control over sexual urges.
  • Castration subdues libido and psychological factors in predation. A Polish government official said after Poland passed a mandatory chemical castration sentencing law in 2010: "The purpose of this action is to improve the mental health of the convict, to lowered his libido and thereby reduce the risk of another crime being committed by the same person."[4]
  • Castration combined with treatment reduces recidivism risks. Governor Celso Jaque of Mendoza Argentina, announced in March of 2010, "By using medication that lowers the person's sexual desire and with psychological treatment, the person can be reintroduced into society without being a threat."[5]


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Con

  • Plenty of examples of castration of sex offenders failing. Aleš Butala of the anti-torture committee: "The delegation that visited the Czech Republic in March and April came across three cases in which sex offenders had committed serious sex-related crimes, including serial rape and attempted murder, after being surgically castrated. So surgical castration is not an effective treatment."[6]
  • Sex offenders often driven by aggression more than sex drive DeWayne Wickham. "Castration often fails to halt offenders." USA Today. September 3rd, 2001: "what is it that pushes sexual predators to want to give up their virility? I suspect it's that they understand better than the rest of us that rape and most other sexual offenses have little to due with sex — and more to do with physical domination. Castration isn't likely to stop a sex offender from preying on people. It will only change the way these predators go about their crimes. As Florida prosecutor Jerry Burford told the St. Petersburg Times: 'I get a lot of people who are impotent that still commit sexual battery. It's not their gonads that cause them to commit sexual battery. It's their heads.'"
  • One can commit rape without an erection. "Thoughts on Castration for Sex Offenders." The Curvature. March 12th, 2009: "One does not need to produce testosterone and/or achieve an erection in order to commit rape. Though it’s far less common, women commit rape against both men and other women. And rape can be and regularly is committed by men using fingers. Rape can be and is committed using objects. And as the NY Times article only briefly notes, castrated rapists have been known to rape again. Rape, just like sex, is not all penises in vaginas."
  • Offenders could reverse "chemical castration" with other drugs. American Civil Liberties Union: "Determined sex offenders can, in all probability, reverse DepoProvera's effects with other drugs."[7]
  • Castration is not a medical necessity with sex offenders. A Council of Europe report responded to the Czech Republic laws on castration by saying: "Surgical castration is a mutilating, irreversible intervention and cannot be considered as a medical necessity in the context of the treatment of sex offenders."[8]


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Rights: Is castration consistent with individual rights?

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Pro

  • Castration puts rights of victims over sex offenders Hynek Blasko, the father of Jakub Simanek, a 9-year old boy raped and killed in 2009 in the Czech Republic expressed indignation that human rights groups were putting the rights of criminals ahead of those of victims: "My personal tragedy is that my son is in heaven and he is never coming back, and all I have left of him is 1.5 kilograms of ashes. No one wants to touch the rights of the pedophiles, but what about the rights of a 9-year-old boy with his life ahead of him?"[9]
  • Not castrating sex offenders is barbaric to victims. Larry Don McQuay (Convicted sex offender). "The case for castration." Washington Monthly. May 1994: "some good and decent citizens claim that castration itself is barbaric. What is barbaric is what I have done to so many children; refusing to castrate me is barbaric to the children I will molest. Mandatory castration of sex offenders, whether for their first, second, or third conviction of a sex offense, is currently a violation of the United States Constitution because it is considered 'cruel and unusual punishment.' But no punishment is crueler or more unusual than the pain I have caused my victims. Voluntary castration is not unconstitutional, but no state allows it."
  • Sex predators are monsters who forgo most rights. Donald Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, said in 2010 after the country passed mandatory sentencing laws: "I do not believe that we can call these individuals – these creatures – human beings. So in this case, we don’t need to discuss human rights."[10]


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Con

  • Castrating sex offenders denies right to reproduce. The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed castration on these grounds.
  • Castrating sex offenders violates right to deny treatment. American Civil Liberties Union: "1. Mandatory chemical castration interferes with an offender's fundamental right to [...] refuse medical treatment."[11]
  • Castration violates due process and equal treatment (of genders). In the United States, based on the Fourteenth Amendment, the procedure fails to guarantee due process of law - although the laws mandating the treatment do so without respect to gender, the actual effect of the procedure falls disproportionately upon males.
  • Castration violates due process; eliminates possibility of redress. If an individual is falsely accused and convicted of a sexual offense, is castrated, and then later is found to be innocent through, say, DNA evidence, the state cannot appropriately compensate the individual for their wrongful conviction and castration.
  • Many offenders will seek castration merely to get out of jail. Castration is an easy out in some ways for imprisoned sex offenders who would rather take their chances with castration than stay in jail, and, though, who might commit more sex crimes in the future.
  • Castration to get out of jail lacks informed consent Ales Butala, a Slovenian human rights lawyer who led the Council of Europe’s delegation to the Czech Republic, said to the New York Times in 2009: “Sex offenders are requesting castration in hope of getting released from a life of incarceration. Is that really free and informed consent?”[13]
  • Innocent shouldn't face choice of more prison vs. castration. Matt Kelley. "Castrating Sex Offenders." Change.org. February 8th, 2009: "The U.K offers castration in exchange for early release. South Korea opened a clinic last month for 'voluntary' chemical castration of sex offenders. Of course, if they don't go along, their sentence is longer. There provisions are not so voluntary, and they're ripe for injustice - torture on one side of coin and a long sentence on the other. What would an innocent person choose?"


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Due punishment: Does the penalty fit the crime?

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Yes

  • Sexual assault is one of worst kinds; castration appropriate. For such a horrific crime, a suitable punishment is needed. Castration fits the bill perfectly. It has been shown that for many sex offenders, the crime is caused by both psychological and physical urges – no rational counselling will prevent a repetition of the crime. Thus castration does not only stop further crimes by the offender (one of the main purposes of any punishment), but it is a strong deterrent for prospective offenders.
  • Castrating sex offenders reserved for rarest cases. Jaroslav Novak, chief of urology at the Faculty Hospital Na Bulovce in Prague, said to the New York Times in 2009: “This is not a very common procedure. We carry it out maybe once every one to two years at most.”


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No

  • Castrating sex offenders is cruel and unusual punishment. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the coerced administration of any drug, including antiandrogen drugs for sex offenders, arguing that forced chemical castration is 'cruel and unusual punishment', and thereby constitutionally prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
  • Castration is about punishing offenders, not public safety. Matt Kelley of the Innocence Project, for example, says that castration is "just another ineffective and harsh punishment of sex offenders, and it's not limited to the Czech Republic."[14]
  • Law functions on basis of non-physical punishment for crimes. We have done away with the barbaric practice of using physical pain or disfigurement as a punishment for other crimes in favour of a more enlightened system of reforming the offender in prison. What would happen if the suspect was later acquitted ? – the process could not be reversed. When the death penalty was applied, many people were found to be innocent subsequent to their execution – the same could happen here. Imprisonment and counselling to prevent re-offence would be far more effective.
  • Sex offenders should be detained/monitored, not castrated. The answer is to permanently detain and/or constantly monitor sex offenders in order to ensure that they do not offend again. It is not necessary to castrate them.
  • Castrating offenders does not make them safe to release. American Civil Liberties Union: "The United States penal system effective or not is designed to protect society from harmful members and to rehabilitate those who can eventually rejoin society. Chemical castration does not make sex offenders ready to face society."[15]


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Saving offenders: Would castration help "save" offenders from themselves?

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Yes

  • Castration helps sex offender by freeing them of urges. Court testimony has shown that many sexual criminals would dearly like to be free of their overwhelming sexual urges. For this reason, they often request castration in order to save themselves from themselves. In the same sense, forcing castration of repeat sex offenders can save these individuals from themselves. There are plenty of examples of these kind of individuals, but one particularly notable one is James Jenkins, a sexual offender held in a Virginia prison who castrated himself with a razor in order to relieve himself from his urges. He said in 2006 to the Washington Post: "Castration has done precisely what I wanted it to do. I have not had any sexual urges or desires in over two years. My mind is finally free of the deviant sexual fantasies I used to have about young girls."[16]
  • Castration is a humane alternative to life-long imprisonment. Castration is a humane alternative to life-long imprisonment, since the effects are claimed to be temporary and are intended to stop sex offenders from re-offending. It enables sex offenders to exist in society without being a threat, instead of a threat that must be imprisoned.


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No

  • Castrating sex offenders less effective than psychotheraphy. Even if castration is combined with a jail term, it is still a far cruder and less effective treatment than prolonged psychotherapy.
American Civil Liberties Union: "Castration fails to treat the psychological roots of sexually deviant behavior."[17]
  • Any attempt to "help" offender may be soft on him. The argument that castration should be performed to "help the offender", runs the risk of being "soft" on the offender.
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Public anxiety: Would castration help relax public anxieties?

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Yes

  • Castrating sex offenders helps put public at ease. At the moment, there is a massive stigmatisation of sexual offenders, with them being ‘named and shamed’ publicly (for example, by the News of the World newspaper in Britain in the summer of 2000), and hounded off their estates by mobs (as can be seen from the events after the News of The World campaign ). They are also subject to a large amount of violence in prison from other inmates. If castration is introduced, the public would know that these people are no longer a threat, and they would be allowed to get on with their lives. Castration removes both the public stigmatisation and personal suffering of sexual offenders, and should be embraced by the penal system.
  • Uncertainty supports chemical castration in all cases. Dr. Keith Ablow. "Chemical 'castration' for sex offenders." Fox News. March 10th, 2010: "[Chemical castration] might seem like a harsh remedy. After all, many sexual offenders will never reoffend, even without treatment. But we just don’t know which offenders are which. And I believe that society, therefore, has the right to treat all such individuals with existing medication known to reduce their sexual urges."


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No

  • Castration would not end public anxiety. The proposition has admitted that witch hunts take place over sexual offenders, and these are by definition not motivated by rational considerations. Just as declaring a mass murderer rehabilitated would not put his neighbours at ease. Also, the prison violence, and indeed other violence, is not so much motivated by a fear of re-offence as by the desire to punish further for the original crime. Castration would not help under these circumstances. It is an unproven and unsubtle method that deserves no place in a modern penal system.
  • Castrating sex offenders gives false sense of security on rape. "Thoughts on Castration for Sex Offenders." The Curvature. March 12th, 2009: "the idea that it would stop the castrated rapists from raping again, as a general rule? I can believe that. But it won’t stop rape. Not even close. And in the process of stopping a few rapes while failing to stop the vast majority of them, a false sense of what rape is about is heavily stitched onto the public’s consciousness."


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Economics: Would castrating sex offenders be economical?

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Pro

  • Castration saves money spent on treating offenders. James Jenkins, a sex offender that castrated himself in 2006 in order to relieve himself of his sexual urges said to the Washington Post: "I'm all for castration for certain sex offenders. I think it would do a lot to prevent recidivism and the amount of money we have to spend on treatment centers like the one I'm in."[18]


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Con

  • Making sex offenders come in for weekly injections is infeasible. Atul Gawande. "The unkindest cut." Slate. July 13, 1997: "Bringing in released convicts for injections is even more difficult. The longest-lasting drug, medroxyprogesterone, still must be given weekly. Making sure that rapists and pedophiles turn up week after week for an unwanted, potentially lifelong treatment may prove impossible."


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Vs. surgical castration: Is chemical castration better than surgical?

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Yes

  • Reversibility of chemical castration important to law. It is important that if the courts make a mistake, that they be able to compensate in some way for their mistake. This is not as possible with physical castration. In the case of chemical castration, if it is determined that an individual is innocent or has received the necessary psychological treatment for their issues, then it is possible to cease chemical castration.


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No

  • Surgical castration can't be avoided/overridden by offender. There are many ways in which a determined offender could avoid chemical castration (merely by leaving a country, they could avoid being required to take drug). Or, they could take other drugs that enhance testosterone levels, thus overriding the effects of chemical castration. Surgical castration involves none of these risks to society. The castration is permanent and irreversible, leaving no doubt that the offender will no longer have, at a minimum, the kind of physical and hormonal imbalances that often trigger predation.


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Pro/con sources

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Pro

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