A new government task force in Australia is considering whether to force child sex offenders to undergo chemical castration as a judicial alternative to prison sentencing.
Western Australia and Victoria courts have the authority to mandate libido-reduction treatment for sex offenders who are deemed particularly dangerous while they're in prison, as part of the conditions of their release.
In New South Wales (NSW), the location of this new task force, convicted child sex offenders can volunteer to undergo the treatment.
But Troy Grant, the NSW justice minister, is pushing to make chemical castration compulsory for child sex offenders because of the high recidivism rates among sex offenders. On Wednesday he announced the establishment of the task force in order to "examine and inform the Government on how we can improve child protection through the increased use of anti-libinal treatment, which is commonly known as chemical castration," he told Australia's Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Grant says statistics show that 17 percent of child sex offenders were likely to reoffend in two years, regardless of time spent behind bars. Grant does not specify what kind of criminal offenses previously convicted sex offenders are committing.
According to a report by the Australian Institute of Criminology, 30 percent of Australian children report some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime. Ten percent say they experienced "severe abuse."
Chemical castration —or "anti-libidinal psychopharmacological intervention" — isn't anything new. It been used since at least the 1950s, sometimes controversially, as a treatment for punishing homosexuals and other sexual deviants, the most famous victim of which was Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the Nazi's Enigma code and who killed himself after being chemically castrated. It has been used more recently in some countries as a punishment and treatment for convicted sex offenders and pedophiles.
Chemical castration makes the patient impotent by dramatically reducing their testosterone levels to match those of a prepubescent boy. Clinicians usually prescribe anti-androgen drugs, like Depo-Provera, which are commonly administered by an injection that lasts for several months, to lower the man's libido. Chemical castration isn't permanent — the course of treatment can be stopped and sexual desire will return.
Australia's criminal justice system wouldn't be the first to make compulsory chemical castration a viable sentencing option if the New South Wales task force goes ahead with its proposal. Russian, Polish and South Korean courts all have the power to order a convicted pedophile to take libido-reducing drugs.
The largest single study of sex offender recidivism rates in the US to date was conducted in 2003 and found that within three years of release from prison, five percent of sex offenders were rearrested for another sex crime. In spite of the low recidivism rates compared to other offenses, a number of states in the US, such as Iowa, Florida, and California can also force a pedophile or a sex offender to undergo chemical castration.
In the US, some convicted sex offenders may prefer chemical treatment over the alternative, which may be long prison sentences, including lifelong imprisonment. Seven states in the US, including California, have laws that mandate the confinement of convicted pedophiles, even after their prison terms end.
But the drugs aren't without side-effects. Some men will grow breasts in the course of treatment and experience weight gain. Reduced bone density is also a common side effect, which can lead to osteoporosis. And some human rights groups in the US, such as the American Civil Liberties' Union see compulsory drug treatment as unconstitutional, tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment," particularly as the drugs may significantly impact an individual's ability to procreate.
Opponents to chemical castration in Australia argue that there's little evidence supporting its effectiveness.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) opposes mandatory or compulsory castration for child sex offenders, reports the the Australian news site news.com.au.
"(Our) Code of Ethics states that psychiatrists shall seek valid consent from their patients before undertaking any procedure or treatment," psychiatrist Dr. John Kasinathan said, according to the site.
And Lecturer Maggie Hall from the University of Sydney wrote in The Conversation that a "focus on the medication of child sexual abusers detracts from other potentially more effective modes of management for the majority of offenders."
Troy Grant, the NSW Justice Minister, acknowledges that medical experts were expressing their reservations on chemical castration, but said courts need the option to sentence pedophiles to compulsory castration if needed.
"It is working in other areas and I want it to work here too because we need to have every sentencing option to protect every child from the predators that are sex offenders," Grant told an Australian news outlet,
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