By Sandy . . . The mandatory chemical castration law that has just passed in Alabama is being debated every way possible. Health professionals are weighing in on why, medically, it is not an effective prevention strategy. From a moral and human rights perspective, the general consensus is that it is barbaric and reminiscent of our nation’s earlier and darker forays into eugenics.
Both of those arguments are valid, but the primary reason it is doomed to fail at having any significant impact on reducing child sexual assault is the same reason that other attempts such as residency restrictions and “child-safe zones” fail. It is the same reason that the registry itself is a dismal failure.
The registry, those laws, and this new attempt – its questionable efficacy aside — have failed and will continue to fail because they are targeting the wrong population.
Prior to the passage of Alabama’s law, nine other states have or have had laws allowing for the use of chemical castration in some shape or form.
California and Florida are cited as being states that, like Alabama, mandate its use. The language in California law, Section 645 (1996) states that with a victim under thirteen, the injections “may” be requested by an offender after the first offense, and that after a second like offense, he “shall undergo” the treatment.
Florida’s statute 794.0235 (1997) likewise says it may be requested after a first conviction of any form of sexual battery (794.011) and “shall” be used after a second offense. Unlike California, Florida does not attach an age limit to the prerequisite.
Louisiana’s law (14:43.6) reads very similar to that of Florida with the exception of specifying a victim age of less than thirteen.
501.061, Texas Penal Code, allows the procedure upon request after the 2nd offense of a child under fourteen and has a laundry list of conditions that must be met by anyone requesting it. According to information from Texas Voices, it is virtually never used.
Wisconsin’s NARSOL state contact reports that while statute 302.11(1)(b)2 states it may be a requirement of the DOC or Parole under certain circumstances, DOC says the controversial treatment is currently offered but never required.
Alabama’s requirement is that all those whose victim was a child under 13 receive the very costly treatment as a condition of release after a first offense and that the cost is borne by the offender, making the Alabama law more stringent than any of the others.
There is some evidence that as part of a complete treatment program which includes psychotherapy and extensive follow up, some recipients of the medication will benefit to some degree. However, offenders who have clear pedophilic tendencies that have resisted other therapies and their own desires to stop are few. Repeat instances of sexual assault on children after an initial conviction and punishment are rare.
For any statistically significant reduction in child sexual assault, just as with other laws, restrictions, and the registry itself, chemical castration is not the answer. Virtually all sexual abuse of children is committed by persons who have no previous sexual assault convictions, persons who are not on the registry, persons who will not be receiving the treatment even if they live in Alabama. They are persons who are intimately connected with their victims in their everyday lives. They are the family members, the peers, and the authority figures of the children they victimize.
The vast majority of them do not have pedophilia. The vast majority of them, once charged, convicted, and confronting the responsibility for what they have done, will never reoffend.
Yet, for those who are convicted, they will be forced to undergo a foreign substance being put into their bodies and their bloodstream, a substance that has well-known and quantifiable negative side effects. It will not protect children. It will not lower the rate at which children are sexually abused.
Republican State Representative Steve Hurst, the sponsor of this bill who has been trying to get it passed for fifteen years, had this to say at its passage: “I’d prefer it be surgical, because the way I look at it, if they’re going to mark these children for life, they need to be marked for life.”
That doesn’t sound like concern for children and a desire for prevention. That sounds like revenge.
And maybe that is the point.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.