Rep. Steve Hurst wants to protect children from pedophiles and sees castration of certain sex offenders as the way to do it, though at least one civil rights group disagrees with him.
Hurst, a Republican from Talladega, has proposed a bill that would require convicted child molesters to be surgically castrated under certain conditions. Specifically, the bill states that anyone more than 21 years old convicted of certain sex offenses against a child 12 years old or younger must be surgically castrated before being released from the state Department of Corrections.
“We need something to protect the children out here,” Hurst said. “They can’t protect themselves.”
Olivia Turner, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a Tuesday email to The Star that while Hurst’s intentions are good, he is going too far with his bill.
Turner said the castration bill is based on a false premise that sexual assault is the product of an uncontrollable sex drive.
“The reality is that sexual crimes are about violence, power and the humiliation of a survivor or victim, which is why a castrated sex offender can still be a serious danger,” Turner wrote. “The highest priority for members of the Legislature working to reduce repeat offenses by sex offenders should be an examination of the effectiveness and availability of psychological treatment for sex offenders in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections.”
Currently in Alabama, convicted pedophiles released from prison must file with the sex offender registry in the county where they will live. They are not allowed to live near schools or churches. County sheriff’s offices are required to routinely check up on the sex offenders in their jurisdiction to ensure the offenders’ addresses still correspond to what is listed in the registry.
Along with surgery, there is also the option of chemical castration, in which a male is required to take routine injections of a chemical that suppresses the amount of testosterone he produces, thereby lowering his sexual urges, said Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins University sexual disorder clinic.
Either method has been shown to suppress sexual urges among some pedophiles, Berlin said in contrast to ACLU’s view.
“It can lower the intensity of their sexual desires,” Berlin said. “There is pretty good evidence that if you lower testosterone, you lower sex drive.”
Chemical castration has been used in other states as a means to deter pedophiles from molesting children.
Eight states currently permit chemical castration under certain circumstances, including Georgia, California, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin.
Berlin noted that different chemicals can be used to suppress the sex drives in female pedophiles as well.
“It’s very unusual for pedophilia to occur among women, but it does happen,” Berlin said. “There are testosterone-like hormones that are important in the sexual drive of women and there are drugs that can suppress that.”
Hurst, however, said he prefers surgical castration.
“The chemical castration, that’s fine as long as they are taking the medication, but who is to say they will continue taking it,” Hurst said.
Berlin disagreed with Hurst.
“There is really no reason to do surgical castration,” Berlin said. “The monthly chemical injections can be monitored … and one can completely reverse the surgical effects by taking testosterone.”
Berlin added that castration is not a guarantee a sex offender will not try to molest a child again, since it cannot suppress urges completely and because pedophilia can be caused by biological or mental factors.
“There is some preliminary biological evidence for causes of pedophilia,” Berlin said. “And it does appear some boys who are sexually abused can be warped in their sexual development and can develop pedophilia.”
Berlin agreed with the ACLU that psychological treatment for pedophiles was a viable option.
“There are many treatments, such as group therapy that is similar to therapy for alcoholics,” Berlin said.
Even though Republicans now control the state Legislature, Hurst could not say if the bill would pass.
“I think it will be the mood of the people, regardless of who is in control,” he said. “I’d like to pass something. If we can save one child … not to be mentally destroyed, that’s what I want to do.”
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.