Chemical castration: Will new Alabama law stop sexual abuse of children?

Indonesia to approve chemical castration of pedophiles
Representational picture: Childrens carry banners at an anti-paedophile protest outside South Jakarta court during the verdict of Australian Peter William Smith February 26, 2007. The court on Monday jailed Smith for 10 years for sexually abusing street children Reuters

Alabama passed a new bill that will require convicted child sex offenders to undergo chemical castration as a condition for parole. Under the law passed by Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, those found guilty of sexually assaulting children under the age of 13 will be given drugs that reduce the sex drive before they leave the prison.

The court will decide until when the medication will be administered and the offenders will be required to pay for the medication. However, the state will waive the fees if the convict is unable to afford the price.

The newly passed Bill was proposed by Alabama House of Representatives member Steve Hurst. He had been fighting for the law for more than a decade after hearing about a case in which an infant was sexually assaulted by the baby's father, according to The Associated Press.

During an earlier debate on the bill, Hurst reportedly said: "If it will help one or two children, and decrease that urge to the point that person does not harm that child, it's worth it."

Although the number of states in the US having castration laws has now increased to seven, including Louisiana and Florida, many have expressed their doubts regarding the punishment's inability to focus on the inherent issue behind such act of crime.

What Is Chemical Castration?

Chemical castration is a medical procedure in which anaphrodisiac drugs are injected to lower the testosterone level, which in turn reduces the sex drive of individuals.

According to a study, the drug medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) has been used extensively in the United States for the purpose of diminishing sexual fantasies and decreasing sexual impulses. However, it is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of sex offenders.

The drug is known to cause physiological effects as it is commonly used in cancer treatments, especially in cases of prostate cancer.

An article by The Atlantic pointed out that apart from lowering libido, the sudden removal of androgenic hormones has been known to impair performance on visual-motor tasks. It is also said that such drugs cause a decline in bone density, increased rates of fractures, as well as depressive symptoms.

Apart from the medical side effects, a major criticism is that while castration drugs such as the MPA can help people control sexual disorders, the drug is unable to stop a violent individual from asserting sexual control.

The Washington Post had reported that castrated sex offenders might replenish their testosterone by injecting hormones purchased illegally or over the internet.

Human Rights Violation

Moldova had passed a law in 2012 that legalised chemical castration for those convicted of sexual abuse of children under 15. But the law was rolled back a year later after the country's constitutional court ruled that the law was a violation of fundamental human rights.

In America, legal tangles such as chemical castration violating the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment has been much debated. "We certainly think that it raises constitutional concerns," said Randall Marshall, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to the AP.

Power Vs Biology

The narrative of sexual offenders being biologically diseased and the need to provide them with treatment has gone on for many years. This stems from the idea that assault is the result of an imbalance in hormones, an excess of which causes individuals to commit rape.

However, this theory is often negated by those who argue that the level of testosterone of sex offenders is not higher than the levels of testosterone of an average male. Even scientific meta-analysis have proved that there is an absence of hormonal imbalance in convicted child sexual offenders.

Others have pointed out that the underlying motive of sexual violence, which is the forceful assertion of power to obtain the sexual submission of the victim, is wiped out if the biology factor is kept at the forefront.

Psychiatrist, Fred S. Berlin, in his analysis, argued that it is important to effectively assist a person "who lacks a sense of conscience and moral responsibility by somehow instilling appropriate values."

For decades, legal bodies and medical practitioners have struggled to strike a balance between protecting the rights of sex offenders and the society's right to be free from such violent behaviour.