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A life of punishment will not deter abusers; Treatment can
Franz Kafka’s novel “In the Penal Colony” describes a punishment machine that inflicts excruciating and torturous pain on prisoners tied to a wooden bed. Above the prisoner, a parallel bed with large needles attached repeatedly pumped over the prisoner’s body, piercing and tattooing. The sole purpose of this device is to physically punish and shame prisoners for their crimes, not to rehabilitate them. It may be analogous to California’s new chemical castration law and the proposed simple handcuff law for second-offense child molesters.
The Women’s Coalition is writing an updated version of Kafka’s novel. This group, which advocates for stricter laws against sex offenders, played an important role in convincing the Legislature to pass the chemical castration law, AB3339, beginning in January. 1. Now, people who have been convicted twice of child abuse will receive injections of Depo-Provera, a hormone that inhibits sexual desire and fertility. Injections are given for the first time a week before a person is released from prison. The new law has no apparent purpose except to continue punishing people who have already served their sentences for their crimes.
Problems with chemical castration include the terrifying prospect that it could be administered to wrongly accused people, as well as doubts about the drug’s efficacy. Dr. Fred F. Berlin, Baltimore director of the National Institute on Sexual Trauma, questions the idea that Depo-Provera injections will just work “pro forma” and says “it’s like a diet drug … you have to want to stop eating too. ” See Mike Lewis, “The New Castration,” California Lawyer, January 1997, p. twenty-one.
But even Dr. Berlin goes too far. Diet medications suppress the appetite. If the drug is accompanied by a desire to lose weight, there is a high probability that weight loss will occur. There is no analogy to child molesters and Depo-Provera, which has an inhibitory effect on both libido and fertility.
Child abusers do not have problems with their libido, they have problems with behavior control, mental fragility and substance abuse. They often come from homes where sexual abuse was common. As such, using Depo-Provera on child abusers is similar to using penicillin for rapists – the drug has no bearing on the problems involved and is therefore ineffective.
Additionally, Depo-Provera has serious side effects in addition to loss of sex drive and fertility: enlarged breasts, hot flashes, and hair loss. Drug “victims” are subject to embarrassing physical changes and, more importantly, suffer the loss of normal, healthy sexual relationships and the ability to have a family. Until a child molester solves the internal problems of torture, the controlling urge to tease will continue, regardless of whether they are chemically castrated or not.
Most psychiatrists believe that chemical castration should only be chosen voluntarily by the abuser and should be accompanied by psychological counseling. In other words, castration is not the answer to the problem; the mental element is the factor that needs to be addressed. The Women’s Coalition has announced that it is currently working on “phase two” of the chemical castration law: the simple handcuff law. Under this scheme, twice convicted child molesters would be forced to use only one spouse for life once they are released from prison. The theory is that the public will be advised that there is an abuser among them; therefore, the public is “safe” from such individuals, who will be publicly embarrassed by the “metal brand.”
The proposed single wives law is inherently flawed. A child may not see the abuser or the handcuffs before the attack. Abusers could easily hide the cuff under a coat, sleeve or glove so that the handcuffs would go unnoticed by potential victims. More importantly, handcuffs do not address the problem and as such do not prevent future crime. The tunnel vision of the Women’s Coalition and its desire to protect society prevents it from seeing the monstrous implication of its proposed shame conviction.
The penalty of shame is not the solution for child molesters. Child molesters are not feeling well. They have impulses that tell them to control something smaller and more vulnerable than themselves. Their need for control drives them to act outside the law. Many of them know that their behavior is illegal, but they are still unable to keep the perspective of social norms. The penalty of shame will not change the behavior of child molesters. To address the problem, we must demand that they seek treatment to address the real problems that threaten them so that society is truly protected. By qualifying these people for life, we remove any incentive for them to seek help and change.
The proper punishment is neither phase one nor phase two of the modern horror novel by the Coalition of Women. The Legislature has already determined the appropriate punishment for the crimes. The Prison Conditions Board determines which prisoners are rehabilitated to the point where they can re-enter society and lead a normal life on probation. The Women’s Coalition usurps these authorities and tells us that now the punishment will continue even after the corresponding sentence has been served.
Blind reliance on shame sentencing overlooks other solutions that can be used while the child molester is still incarcerated and still safe from the public. An inmate may be required to attend mandatory and rigorous psychological counseling. The victim, often from the same family as the abuser, as well as other family members, could be asked to attend these sessions in an open forum atmosphere to increase awareness of the issues, encourage recognition of the issues warning signs and trigger a relief. of emotions, fears and worries. Inmates could be subjected to cursory polygraph exams prior to release to determine if they are still prone to further abuse.
Despite these viable solutions, the Women’s Coalition’s punishment does not take the form of a monstrous torture machine, but of medical technology and visible public displays. Although there is a clear difference in form, the similarity remains: the punishment inflicted is only aimed at shame: it is not intended to treat the symptoms of the crime.
Shame sentences only guarantee that hope, help, and self-awareness will never occur. It is a band-aid to cover up the frustration and fear that society feels when the problems in question are extremely difficult to solve. The penalty of shame is a crutch that society uses when it wants protection but feels that its hands are handcuffed. But society will not be protected … in the penal colony.
By Sharon B. Morris