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Guam Will Allow Some Sex Offenders to Walk Free if They Agree to Chemical Castration

Critics see the Chemical Castration for Sex Offenders Act as a showy reaction to rape statistics.

This story appears in the November Issue of VICE.

In September, Guam enacted the Chemical Castration for Sex Offenders Act, setting up a four-year pilot program that ties male sex offenders' parole to regular anti-androgen treatments, killing their sex drives. Offenders facing the costly and side-effect-heavy treatment, which they must pay for, can opt out and walk free only if they let the state literally chop off their balls.

The idea of a United States territory actively chemically castrating dozens of citizens (even sex offenders) sounds archaic and barbaric. Yet after California revived the practice in 1996, eight other states began experimenting with it—although they use it more sparingly than Guam will. Chemical castration's acceptance doesn't mean it always works to prevent sex crimes, however. Guamanian proponents, using European data, claim their policy will drastically reduce recidivism. But most of that data is based on voluntary programs, often coupled with therapy, unlike Guam's. The bill's supporters also ignore Senate criticisms that medical professionals promote anti-androgen treatments only for some sex offenders, whose crimes are tied to sex drive rather than to general violence or substance abuse, which libido reductions will not curb.

"This in some ways seems like legislators practicing medicine without a license," said Dr. Frank Berlin. A pioneer of modern anti-androgen treatments, Berlin thinks we should make these drugs more available to those who seek them and for whom we know they work. But he rejects blanket programs like Guam's, which he sees as showy reactions to rape stories or stats (like 2013 FBI figures showing that Guam has America's second-highest rape rates—Alaska has the highest) rather than sound policy. Critics hope a lawsuit or bad internal review will freeze Guam's program. But widespread "chop their balls off!" rhetoric and a dearth of advocates mean they might not kill it. For now, local sex offenders must resign themselves to probably needless, ineffective, strong-armed neuterings. Surely, that'll rehabilitate them.