Castration: Justice, or Nazi Revival?
Who hasn’t learned half of all that they know from 20/20? For instance, 20/20 warned me about the dangers of pre-washed salad and Jacuzzi drains, and one Friday evening in the late ’90s, the news show introduced me to the debate about castration as punishment for sexual crimes. A decade later, the discussion is becoming painfully relevant again. The Czech Republic unveiled its policy of mandatory chemical castration, and Poland followed suit on September 25th.
All those years ago, Barbara Walters turned to us and said, “Let me ask you something. Does a man who rapes women and children deserve your sympathy under any circumstance? What if he couldn’t help himself? And there was a miracle cure that would keep him from ever raping again?” She then held a conversation with Joseph Frank Smith, better known as “The Ski Mask Rapist” for his rampage through the San Antonio, Texas area in the early 1980s. Though Smith had already racked up nearly 200 victims by 1983, he was captured during a revisit to one victim.
Smith was facing consecutive life sentences when defense attorney Ray Taylor took up his case. With the consultation of Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins, Taylor claimed that a combination of traumatic childhood experiences and an unusually high testosterone level, not malicious intent, were the true causes of Smith’s behavior. Indeed, he seemed incredibly docile and remorseful on television. The Texan jurors trying him must have been similarly swayed by Smith’s earnestness, because they delivered a 10-year suspended sentence with administrations of Depro-Provera in lieu of real prison time.
Smith began taking the female contraceptive, believed to essentially neutralize over-sexed men. Things went smoothly for a while, and he even got married to the nurse who was giving him the shots. Then Dr. Berlin and company decided that it was safe to taper off the medication, and all hell broke loose. Reincarnated as the Bandana Bandit, Smith made up to 75 more sexual violations within his new Richmond, Virginia environs after 1987, culminating in his wife’s discovery of him masturbating and ultimately ejaculating over his own daughter and two other sleeping children in 1994. He was arrested in 1995 for counts of cruelty and injury to the children, and criticisms about the castration sentence raged across the nation.
Unfortunately, the Smith story doesn’t help conclude the efficacy debate or the morality debate when considering chemical or surgical castration. The efficacy debate revolves around whether or not the problem can be solved physiologically. Can hormone injections or a good scalpel really unseat the twisted psychological forces that contribute to predatory actions such as sexual assault, pedophilia, and rape? Since Smith apparently did not continue taking Depro-Provera and then was locked up for life without reprieve, it is impossible to determine whether or not the drug would have curbed his harmful behavior in the long term. Even if Smith had kept taking the shots, there would be no way to know whether or not he had coincidentally untangled his psyche to simply determine not to commit any more sex crimes.
Scientific research, however, supports the theories that chemical and surgical castration can dramatically reduce the urges of sexual predators and diminish the probability of recidivism. A 2004 study of German subjects submitted to Sexual Abuse: Journal of Treatment and Recovery, revealed that only 3% of sexual criminals relapsed into their old ways post-operation, compared to 46% of their uncastrated counterparts. Meanwhile, a New Zealand study revealed that hormonal castration boasts the same 97-98% efficacy in combating recidivism for rapists per year as compared to 62% via traditional penalties.
Still sound barbaric, something not even fit for the cattle of Argentina, let alone a human being? Well, it may surprise the reader to know that the United States is among the countries buying into this method of crime control. The office of Connecticut’s Chief Attorney Sandra Norman-Eady states that California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin currently allow castration, and details the legal wording of each law.
Where did it begin? In the great state of California, when the governor signed a law that made the administration of medroxyprogesterone acetate (a.k.a. Depo-Provera) a suitable penalty for sex offenses against minors. Texas followed with a similar law in 1997 with then Governor George W. Bush as the signer of the bill. Notably, California and Florida make castration mandatory for repeat offenders.
What are the other states waiting for? Why the recent heat by the European Union on the Czech Republic for a surgical or chemical castration policy that has been in place for thousands of years now (and by the way is voluntary)? Why the bafflement over Poland’s 400-1 legislative vote at the end of September to enforce mandatory chemical castration of pedophiles, and why the uneasiness that France might jump on the bandwagon?
Herein lies the morality debate. Is it ever fair to biologically alter a human being, especially if it is not in his will to be altered? Joseph Frank Smith volunteered to have the procedure done, so this difficulty was avoided in his case. However, plenty of people see an inherent flaw in a procedure that is likened to medieval torture, Nazi-era experimentation, and America’s own Eugenics Movement to genetically purge society of its problems (which, by the way, preceded Hitler’s rise). In fact, the expiration of the movement is thanks in large part to World War II, when the public began to draw parallels between its eerie physical experiments with the activities of Hitler’s mad scientists.
Most of all, there is an extreme fear of emasculation in basically all societies around the globe.
To many, allowing any form of castration in our justice system is tantamount to mandating a federal death penalty, stoning a woman for adultery, installing stockades in the public square, or cutting off the hands of thieves. In fact, people commonly associate the process of castration as removal of the penis. This is a completely misinformed association, but is Czech-style removal of the testicles really any better? And if so, is chemical castration somehow even more humane than surgical castration? One reader of a Huffington Post blog worries, “In the U.S. ‘sex offender/ can range from the really horrible end shown in this situation, to an 18-year-old having sex with a 16-year-old partner (young, but age-appropriate within societal limits, and only illegal because of the legal-age thing), to a guy taking a pee in an alley where children *could* happen to walk by and see it. As long as the classification remains that broad, chemical castration isn’t appropriate…I am uncomfortable with mandatory sentencing in general.” This raises the question: where is the cut-off line?
My two cents: Let’s not get too philosophical here. A man who violates a woman, child, or any human being should be punished, and prevented from repeating similar actions in the future. That said, I think that voluntary chemical and surgical castration should be made available to any sex offender who wants it, though not as a total substitution for imprisonment. As for my views on mandatory castration, I’m going to take the 5th because I agree that there are a lot of issues to be worked out in that. Here’s something to ponder, though: repeat sex offenders continuously violate the freedom of others and haven’t got the balls to go under the knife of their own volition. This constitutes a far deeper social problem that we have to consider along with the debate about who, when, where, and how much to cut off.
Based in Andover, Massachusetts, Jia H. Jung is a Master of Pacific and International Affairs accounting for an international wholesaler. You can contact her at email@example.com