Does Castration Stop Rapists?

Though leading the polls in Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has received additional and unwanted attention in recent days for his role in pardoning a convicted rapist who went on to rape and murder at least one and possibly two women after his release in 1999.

Wayne Dumond was convicted in 1984 of raping a teenaged girl who was a distant cousin of Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. While out on bail and awaiting trial, Dumond claimed men in black ski masks broke into his home and forcibly castrated him. The authorities claimed Dumond cut off his own testicles in an attempt to curry favor with the jury. He was sentenced to life in prison, and his testicles ended up in a jar on the desk of a controversial Arkansas sheriff.

Testosterone levels and consequently men's libidos can be lowered through surgically removing a man's testicles or treating him with drugs. For that reason, castration has been used by psychiatrists and mandated by various states to treat some sex offenders.

Castration -- physical or chemical -- however, does not guarantee that a man will forever be sexually dysfunctional or that he won't again commit rape.

"You can be castrated and still have an intact penis," said Dr. Andrew Kramer, a urologist at the University of Maryland. "If he was castrated, his testosterone levels would drop significantly but not all the way to zero. Most testosterone is produced by the testes, but some is made in the adrenal glands above the kidneys."

Moreover, men who take testosterone, through pills or injections, could easily restore natural levels of the hormone allowing them to have sex despite their lack of testicles.

Some 65 percent of castrated sex offenders reported a drop in sex drive, according to a German study conducted in the 1960s, but 18 percent reported being able to function regularly 20 years after the procedure.

A 2005 study printed in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychology and the Law, found that between zero and 10 percent of sexual offenders who are surgically castrated repeat their crime.

That rate of recidivism in surgically castrated offenders is about the same as it for all sex offenders. According to the Department of Justice, 5.3 percent of all sex offenders were rearrested for another sex crime within three years of their release.

Treatment of sex offenders by castration, usually through the use of prescription drugs, is common throughout the United States, though less than a dozen states legally require repeat offenders to be treated chemically.

At least one state, Florida, allows sentenced prisoners to choose surgical castration in lieu of prison time. In September, confessed rapist James Allen, 35, chose to be castrated to obtain a reduced sentence.

Forensic psychiatrists are split as to whether chemical castration is a successful treatment for sex offenders.

"Castration -- chemical or surgical -- is not a particularly good way of responding to sexual behavior," said William Samek, a forensic psychologist and director of the Florida Sexual Abuse Treatment Program.

"Castrated offenders can and do offend again. There are much less intrusive ways to get sexual offenders not to repeat. … Castration is not particularly effective and the whole practice is inhumane. It is more Middle Ages and Middle Eastern than it is modern or American. … It is comparable to cutting off the hands of thieves or drunk drivers, both of whom are more likely to reoffend." he said.

Recidivism rates are lower for sex offenders than any other crime. Drug offenders are 10 times more likely to be rearrested for a similar crime, according to Justice Department statistics.

According to Samek, rape and sexual abuse are generally symptoms of a personality disorder. The recidivism rate is low because the experience of arrest and prison is usually enough to keep them from committing the crime again. Through traditional talk therapy, many sex offenders can keep their impulses under control, he said.

But others disagree, and see the use of drugs like Depo-Provera, a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone, which counters the effects of testosterone as an essential tool in curbing the violent sexual desires of rapists.

"A subset of rapists is driven by abnormal sexual cravings, and lowering their testosterone diminishes those cravings," said Dr. Fred Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"This is a very heterogeneous group of individuals, and a subgroup is driven by sadistic cravings. They are likely to be repeat offenders. Talk therapy cannot adequately help them and drugs can in those cases be helpful. … If we can make our communities safer, why wouldn't we?"

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