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Castration: Justice, or Nazi Revival?

October 16, 2009

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.

One of the many things Barbara Walters explored was the castration debate

One of the many things Barbara Walters explored was the castration debate

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.

Depo-Provera: The Castration Drug

Depo-Provera: The Castration Drug

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.

In this sketch, artist Francisco Goya asked, "What More Can Be Done?"

In this sketch, artist Francisco Goya asked, "What More Can Be Done?"

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.

...the only way? Not everyone is convinced just yet.

...the only way? Not everyone is convinced just yet.

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?

An ancient image of castration as punishment

An ancient image of castration as punishment

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.

Nazi propoganda to legitimize procedures such as forced castration proclaimed, "Qualitative decline in the population . . . It will come to this if individuals of lesser power have four children and those of higher value have two."

Nazi propaganda to legitimize procedures such as forced castration proclaimed, "Qualitative decline in the population . . . It will come to this if individuals of lesser power have four children and those of higher value have two."

Most of all, there is an extreme fear of  emasculation in basically all societies around the globe.

Satirical photo by Mike Rossmassler likens exposure to Sex and the City to castration

Interestingly, this satirical photo by Mike Rossmassler likens exposure to Sex and the City to castration

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?

Orchiectomy, a.k.a. removal of the testacles

Orchiectomy, a.k.a. removal of the testicles

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

  1. October 16, 2009 12:15 pm

    Wow interesting point. I hadn’t even thought of castration (whether voluntary or not) as a result of criminal rape offenses. I’d hope that if criminals of rape choose to do this, that the law allows them. However I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about forced castration for criminals of rape—it goes into a deeper discussion of personal autonomy over one’s body; it’s similar to the death sentence debate, or even abortion debate.

  2. Jadey permalink
    October 18, 2009 9:06 am

    [TRIGGER warning: I know that this post is already about rape, but I feel like my comment is potentially triggery even in this context.]

    Here via the Feministe link promotion thread, and I just wanted to throw in that this approach also privileges a phallo-centric conception of rape, both in cause and in consequence, which is disastrously simplistic. The physiological function of male erection and release are not actually fundamental to the act of rape. Child sexual assault, for one example, frequently does *not* include penile intercourse, more often involving exposure and unwanted touching. There is no requirement that the person committing the assault be aroused or even motivated by sexual desires, even though general conceptions about rape tend to assume this.

    Moreover, it also ignores that the majority of people commit rape based on faulty beliefs, not faulty physiology. Beliefs that they deserve it even if their victim says no, that the victim truly wants it, that it’s not actually rape, that it’s okay as long as no one catches them at it, and even beliefs that although it’s clearly wrong and bad, they can’t help it because their bodies need it. Beliefs that are wrong, clearly. However, from these deeply flawed premises flow perfectly logical and normal (and horrific) behaviours. More work has been done to reduce criminal re-offending by challenging people on their pro-rape attitudes and beliefs (which includes holding them accountable for their actions already taken) than on treating rapists as fundamentally broken or inhuman beings that can be surgically “fixed”.

  3. alice-paul permalink
    October 18, 2009 6:52 pm

    Jadey – I completely agree, except for your last sentence.

    Because rapists ARE “fundamentally broken, inhuman beings.”

    You are right that they probably cannot be surgically fixed though.

  4. Adalia permalink
    October 19, 2009 1:28 am

    Personally, I believe that this would be a fantastic policy to impliment. But it would have to be forced since it will do no good to make a man choose, since if he doesn’t want to rape someone he’s not going to rape someone. Rapists are screwed up but they still have the free will to make the decison. Plus they lost their rights when they committed a crime. If murderers can be sentenced to death in certain states than the states have the right to sentence rapists to castration. Issues of molestation of children and indecent exposure need to be handled through more psychological measures to find a reason or trigger. With the majority of rapes being date rape, there is a definate sexual nature to it, and though advocates are arguing that rape is a crime of violence for the sake of violence, I would have to argue that it is violence of a sexual nature and many times sexually provoked. Repeat offenders and men who use drugs to set up the situation should be the ones that are required whereas maybe start first time offenders to volunteer for it in return for a shorter sentence.

  5. Don permalink
    October 24, 2009 10:46 pm

    I think Judges should be given the power to order castration. If a Judge feels that the sex offender should be castrated it should be her decision whether or not to order it. But I think we all know what the sentence would be if an offender had to go in front of a woman judge for his sentencing…the man would definitely be crying and begging the judge for mercy with the hopes that she will let him keep his manhood intact.

  6. Kristen permalink
    December 16, 2009 9:42 pm

    My problem with chemical castration is that it is possible for the offender to counter the effects by taking steroids and other testosterone enhancing supplements/medicines so, even if the depo is administered by someone other than the offender, it’s effects could too easily be nullified.

    I am a proponent of surgically castrating violent and serial rapists. If a woman or child does not have a right to their own body, why should the piece of %$%$ rapist have a right to his?

  7. Don permalink
    December 18, 2009 4:56 pm

    I have to agree w/ Kristen. Just a few weeks ago Terrence “Colt” Madden plead guilty of multiple rapes in Canada. He has a long history of sex offenses. Previously, he was chemically castrated for some time which according to him controlled his sexual urges. But he quit taking the injections because he couldn’t afford them anymore and then the sexual urges returned. And when the urges returned he returned to committing more sex offenses. His attorney, Susan Von Echten, told the court that Colt is willing to undergo surgical castration this time to permanently remove his urges. But before he is surgically castrated she wants him to sit down with a psychiatrist to make sure he “fully appreciates” the consequences of his decision (i.e. yes the urges will be gone…but so will his ability to achieve an erection). In my opinion, chemical castration should not be an option. The only options for a convicted rapist should be prison time or surgical castration or both. If the Judge wants to sentence the man to the maximum prison time plus surgical castration, it should be her choice. Or if she wants sentence him to surgical castration but have his prison time reduced she should have that option as well. Or just prison time or just surgical castration. Either way, she should have the final say as to whether or not he gets to keep his jewels.

  8. December 19, 2009 9:26 am

    Don & Kristen: surgical castration is extremely problematic given that false convictions happen.

  9. Don permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:15 am

    Elizabeth: That is true…there will be women that falsely accuse men of rape. That’s always going to happen. But in the case that you pointed out that incident happened 35 yrs ago. Technology is alot better now. So, while a very small percentage of innocent men might be surgically castrated due to women falsely accusing them, I do think it would still be for the good of society. Just look at how many rapists go free after doing their time only to go out and rape more and more women. I think that happens ALOT more frequently. No system is perfect. We have to look at what is best for society. Also, the Judge doesn’t always have to sentence the man to surgical castration. The Judge could always sentence the man to prison time w/o having him surgically castrated if she feels it is appropriate. She might be convinced that the man learned his lesson, it was his first offense and that he will not rape again and therefore let him keep his manhood.

    • December 19, 2009 12:06 pm

      Don, it’s very interesting that you would immediately start talking about false accusations by women. In the case I linked to, that’s not what happened: the victim wasn’t even a woman. There have been other cases in which it was a woman and she was subtly pressured by the police into identifying a particular man.

      Technology is better now, but it doesn’t help all that much if the system is corrupt. (Did you notice that in the case I linked to he had to make five requests before a judge allowed a DNA test?) It is especially telling that Black men make up a disproportionate amount of those falsely convicted whom DNA tests have exonerated.

      Other commenters have pointed out that castration does not prevent all forms of rape. You’re willing to risk having some innocent men, most likely Black men, permanently castrated in order to prevent some other men from committing rape in one particular way (though they could still commit it in other ways) and you have assumed that if any innocent men were thus victimized, it would be because women lied. That’s a pretty problematic package there.

  10. Don permalink
    December 19, 2009 2:26 pm

    Elizabeth: All I am saying is that a Judge should have surgical castration as an option. It’s just like having the death penalty as an option. You have to have severe penalties for severe crimes. Hence, the death penalty or surgical castration. Look, our prisons are waaaay overcrowded as it is. There is no more room. What are the courts supposed to do? At least give the Judges some more options. Our system isn’t always going to be perfect. I’m sure we have had innocent poeple be sentenced to death. But we need to use the death penalty as a deterrent. We should not stop using it. The same goes with surgical castration. A Judge should at least be able to sentence a man to surgical castration if she thinks it is appropriate. What if the man has been convicted of multiple sex offenses? It doesn’t make sense to release him back into society w/ his weapon of choice still in tact. It should at least be removed/disabled. And like I said, it should at least be a sentencing option. A Judge doesn’t have to order it for a first time offender. But if the man is found guilty of multiple sex offenses the Judge should be able to have the man surgically castrated if she thinks it is necessary.


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