Prejudice masquerading as therapy

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Ancient Greece will have become even more ancient by the time I get around to my promised blog about it, unfortunately, as my time is being taken up in pursuit of some hot new developments on the transgender front, which is another topic in the pipeline. The good news, though, is that an excellent anonymous guest blog has come in, offered to Heretic TOC through Filip Schuster. Filip is a friend of the author and can vouch for his authenticity. I would remind everyone that Filip has contributed some excellent comments here, especially in response to “The seven ages of sexual attractiveness” in September. In my view, his friend’s article below captures extremely well the doctrinaire flight from reality imposed these days in the name of therapy on those convicted of even the mildest offences of a sexual nature relating to minors. Note that this account comes not from the Anglosphere, as might be expected, but from an unnamed country of continental Europe.

 

Deferred prosecution for softcore child porn

by Anonymous

In the early 2010s, I was one of many targets of a national police raid against child pornography, in a Western European country. The reason they paid me a visit was that I had saved a few softcore images of young girls in a private web album. The photos had been screened by a webmaster and assessed as being “possibly illegal”. For this reason, the webmaster had closed my account and contacted the police who simply added me to the long list of addresses for their raid.  A prosecutor decided to offer me deferred prosecution because the pictures I had uploaded were “not that serious”. During the raid, the police confirmed that the material in question was all in the softcore category. It mainly consisted of so-called non-nude images and a few nudes. There were no pictures of sexual acts (other than modelling), no close-ups of genitals, and nothing sadistic, creepy or tragic. In fact, most of the models were smiling and looked amused or happy, and the police told me that this was the type of material that was produced voluntarily, to the extent that most of the girls probably even liked the modelling. They conceded that this category used to be completely legal in our country. Things had changed a lot, which in their interpretation even implied that portrait photos of clothed beautiful young girls with make-up, and legal pictures of young but adult petite erotic models, should all be seen as kiddie porn now.

They confiscated my PC and several dozen CDs or DVDs, but felt no need to arrest me or search my whole house. Two months later, I had to sign a contract which mainly meant that I agreed to undergo a psychiatric, polyclinic “treatment” at a forensic clinic, as an outpatient. I was not allowed to choose an external therapist or sexologist of my own liking, but I simply had to accept whatever they would impose on me.

I decided to agree, because the alternative would be a public court case that could easily affect my whole life.

Pathologising

At the clinic, it soon became clear that anyone with paedophilic feelings was automatically seen as a psychiatric patient. In my particular case, these feelings were linked with a presumed arrested emotional, social and sexual development, thought to be the result of an autistic disorder, namely Asperger Syndrome. I had to complete long and tedious tests which did not confirm these diagnostic assumptions, but I was still given the label “autistic”. The irony was that during the group sessions I proved that this diagnosis could not be true, because I showed more (rather than less) than average social intelligence and empathy towards my fellow patients. In the end, this was explicitly acknowledged by my therapists, but they did not adjust their diagnosis. To be more precise, I lacked all the typical defining characteristics of Asperger’s, such as developmental problems during childhood, high sensitivity to sensory stimuli, an obsessive aversion to chaos, poor social insight, deficient emotional intelligence, a limited emotional life, problems with change, or strange obsessions with unusual interests. The characteristics that I did show, such as relatively high intelligence, introversion, or limited motor skills, were not defining and also applied to many gifted persons without any autistic disorder. (After my “treatment”, I read that many intellectually gifted patients are routinely given a “false positive” diagnosis within the autism spectrum, and it even appears to be something of a fad within psychiatric clinics.).

They even seemed really disappointed when I demonstrated that their argumentation did not make sense. Also, they ignored the highly intimidating context and denied that this clearly affected my overall performance. They did not accept the truism that many patients will typically under-achieve in such an environment and that minor errors could be seen as the result of stress, rather than as clear signs that there had to be something wrong with me (i.e. on top of my paedophilic “disorder”).

It was as if they had assessed me before they had met me, and tried to interpret their findings as conclusively confirming their prejudiced diagnosis, even though there was every reason to see them as conclusively refuting it.

This was rather shocking, because it gave me the impression that my self-image did not matter to them. They did not even care that the Asperger’s diagnosis did not match what I considered one of my best developed psychological traits, my empathic ability. Rather than trying to empower me, they were really determined to force their prejudiced views onto me. It was only because I tried to stay calm and polite that I was not forced to follow so-called psycho-education sessions for autistic patients.

With my sexual offence, what particularly gave them reason to believe I had to be autistic was the fact that I thought that voluntary softcore material was ethically acceptable. In their view, I had to realize that children and youngsters below the age of 23 (when their brains would be fully developed) obviously lacked the capacity to understand the long-term consequences of their participation.

I protested that they had the right to blame me for underestimating society’s condemnation of any type of child erotica and thereby underestimating the outrage that could affect the children involved, in the long run, but that this did not imply a lack of empathy. I had simply believed that society was still a bit more tolerant about such material and agreed that if the public perception of softcore images had become so extremely negative, this implied  that it could also undermine the self-perception of the young models.

I concluded that softcore images should become legal again, as soon as society becomes more open to this. This time, it should happen  under strict conditions and be monitored by the government, to prevent any type of abuse or exploitation more effectively .

The clinic clearly had a hard time dealing with me. I did not fit into their standard typologies, because I did not have any important social, financial, compulsive or post-traumatic symptoms and my offence had remained strictly limited to what I had considered morally acceptable. The only real reason I was going to their sessions was that it was part of my contract.  Nevertheless, they kept looking for anything  that would prove I was severely disturbed.

They did not even distinguish a diagnostic category of “paedophilia without a severe psychiatric background” and they ultimately admitted that the stricter legislation would probably make it necessary to do so, because from now on many average paedophiles with a moderate interest in (exclusively) softcore erotica would suddenly be considered real criminals who really needed therapy.

Predictably, all this was quite humiliating, dehumanising and alienating for me.  I went through a lot of fears, worries and insecurity, and had gloomy nightmares.

Within my group, I was the only one who did not have to undergo a second therapy after the group sessions were completed, but they only told me so at the very last moment.

The other members of my group were generally treated even more harshly and I often felt really bad for them, which I expressed in critical remarks and supportive statements. This made me quite popular among the other group members and in the long run, even the therapists admitted that a lot I  had been saying really made sense.

Confusing setting

There was a pervasive ambivalence within the clinic’s attitude towards its patients. Everyone, including the therapists, was addressed by his or her personal name. There seemed to be lots of room for personal confessions and unfiltered responses. However, this atmosphere was merely apparent. Anything you said could and often would be used to increase the pathologising of your particular case.

This included positive traits and experiences, which were reinterpreted as signs of a selfish or criminal personality. The therapists were hardly interested in personal backgrounds of offences and tried to reduce them to standard models. They even forced us to stop using positive or neutral terms, such as “curiosity” or “models” and replaced them by negative ones.

Some therapists were kind and supportive by nature, but anything the patients told a therapist would typically become common knowledge of the whole team. This could be particularly upsetting if a therapist had been sloppy or even incorrect in his or her report.

Also, a therapist who was nice at one occasion, could suddenly become harsh and distant during another session.

For me, all this meant that I basically felt lost, confused and threatened from day one, and that it was difficult for me to conceal my real, mostly negative, feelings.

Another thing that was confusing concerned our main therapist’s attitude to erotica and relationships. She did accept the fact that erotic modelling and even paedophile relationships could be voluntary from the minor’s perspective, but remained convinced that even these were by definition very harmful anyway. She claimed that this was even true for minors above the legal age of 16. Anyone interested in such adolescents clearly had a severe psychiatric disorder, and any minor interested in an adult needed treatment as well!

In general, the analyses of personal backgrounds remained very stereotypical and superficial and they were more interested in confirming their prejudices than in understanding the individual group member. Also, they pretended to show empathy for us, by imagining what they would do in a specific situation themselves, even though none of the therapists showed any signs of a paedophilic preference… We were sick if we reacted differently than they would do.

In terms of the severity of offences, the therapists acted as if it should be absolutely clear that watching soft erotica was not essentially different from watching hardcore child porn and that it was indirectly linked to raping children. They also wanted us to believe that there was a very high percentage of recidivism, whereas this is completely incorrect.

We were stimulated to give a detailed description of our “crimes”, but the therapists got almost hysterical if we mentioned specific photographers such as Hamilton, because this would probably lead our fellow group members into temptation.

Forensic ideology

According to the forensic workers I met, all child erotica had become illegal in our country because we now knew that children were not able to deal with sexuality in a responsible, harmless way, not even in the context of softcore erotic modelling. Therefore, they had to be protected against any kind of sexuality, especially in relation to adults.

This general ideology was even shared by really kind professionals, and doubting it was regarded as a clear sign of a psychiatric disorder. All of them acted as if the debate on paedophilia is closed for good, and that anything paedo-erotic involving real children could never be innocent or harmless, let alone positive.

My main therapist believed that softcore erotic modelling was never really voluntary and that there was always some type of coercion involved. On this, even the police officers who had confiscated my PC had a less extreme opinion.

Any type of erotic attraction to children would in itself be pathological and this was also true for a child’s attraction to an adult.

If they accepted the existence of exhibitionism in children, they exclusively regarded it as a psychiatric symptom. Normal, psychologically healthy children would never get involved in erotica.

This also meant that anyone who justified softcore porn had to do so through rather transparent rationalisations and was basically driven by ruthless lust.

We were not allowed to correct such prejudices, and we had to become convinced that any type of paedo-eroticism involving real children was by definition immoral. Anyone who engaged in such things would therefore be really selfish or lacking a basic capacity for empathy.

 

The long ARMS of the law

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“Show me six lines written by an honest man, and I will find enough in them to hang him.”

These chilling words, or some remembered approximation of them, are said to have been uttered to his clerical staff by Cardinal Richelieu, the notoriously ruthless, Machiavellian chief minister of King Louis XIII of France. He had the good sense not to write them down.

So the cardinal had much better sense than me, a man who will considered honest, I trust, at least by his peers, and who has written a great many more lines than six. Goodness, how many times might I have been hanged in Richelieu’s day, when they had a quicker way with heretics! But I’ve been jailed enough, God knows, so you might think I’d be very wary of writing to officers of the law.

But I have! This very month! A monumentally self-incriminating missive, as it may be, not of six lines but of more than six pages!

Why? What madness could have come upon me? Had I seen set upon the rack and tortured into a confession?

No, in truth, nothing was forced out of me. Perhaps it was more a case of giving a man enough rope, that he might hang himself. You can judge for yourselves. Here is what happened.

The police paid a visit to my home, as they do every three months, in mid-January. This was the latest of their routine monitoring visits, undertaken as a consequence of my conviction for distribution of indecent images of children in 2006 and of my resulting requirement to register as a sex offender.

Usually, the two monitoring officers stay for only about fifteen minutes, making very limited enquiries as to any significant changes in my life in the intervening period, such as whether I have started a relationship, which might help lower the perceived risk presented by an offender if he seems to be turning towards adults instead on children, but which could set alarm bells ringing if this new “romantic” interest was someone with young children. As my answer to the relationship question, and most of the others, is always “no, nothing new”, there is no usually no need for the officers to be detained overlong.

But this latest visit was far from routine in nature. It turned out to be a long and difficult session. This is because the local police force in question have been introducing a new risk assessment tool, comprising a far more detailed set of questions than before, and I now found myself its latest “victim”. Devised under the auspices of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the new tool is called ARMS (Active Risk Management System). It starts with the word “Active” partly because the initial “A” helps make a neat acronym; but “active” also hints at a distinction long used in risk assessment between “dynamic” (active) and “static” risk.

Static risk, as the name implies, is stuff that doesn’t change, or not much. It includes previous convictions. I cannot delete mine from the record, alas, and they will always indicate (to the statistically minded) a degree of risk of further offending. The more offences there are on the record – three in my case – the higher the risk of future offending. I have been assessed as High Risk on the standard static risk assessment tool, Matrix 2000, since my release from prison in 2007.

Matrix 2000 is actually quite a good predictor of future behaviour in most cases (the statistical boffins do actually know their stuff), so it is not being dropped. But it was felt a formal assessment was needed for the changing aspects, the dynamic side. What they came up with in a limited trial was a set of questions that systematically, and I would say too intrusively, probe the registered offender’s current life under a number of themed headings. These tools are invariably tested for their validity and reliability. No doubt the relevant data will eventually be published, but the national roll-out of ARMS in a revised version following the trial now appears to be going ahead before anything has appeared in the professional journals so far as I can tell.

The monitoring officers put me in the picture about ARMS, including the fact that questions would be asked relating to 11 factors found to have a bearing on dynamic risk. These were:

1. Opportunity for re-offending.
2. Sexual preoccupations.
3. Offence-related sexual interests.
4. Emotional congruence with children.
5. Hostile orientation.
6. Self-management.
7. Social influences.
8. Commitment to desist from offending.
9. Intimate relations.
10. Employment and positive routine.
11. Social investment.

Perhaps the correct response would have been to say, “Hang on a minute, this is being sprung on me very suddenly. Can we deal with this after I have spoken to my lawyer?” On the other hand, this was clearly a new regime to which everyone on the register across the land is going to be subjected. How could I hope to hold out against it? Why would I bother to resist when to do so would merely raise suspicions that I had something to hide?

Anyway, finding myself ambushed by these two guys, who are always very polite and I have known them for years, I meekly submitted. Once started, it soon became clear the exercise was going to be complicated and I found myself becoming anxious over how my answers were going to be scored. The guys, let’s call them Chris and Mike, told me they had both been on a training course, so they could interpret my verbal answers and assess each one as representing low, medium or high risk.

But the assessment exercise was to be carried out later, based on memorising what I told them and thinking about it. Typically, the interviews are expected to take an hour to an hour and a half. No notes were taken in my case. As I said to them at the time, it seemed to be asking a lot of anyone’s memory, especially in view of the fact that some of my answers, due to the complexity of the issues, were very finely nuanced, leaving the distinct possibly of them getting the wrong end of the stick.

In the middle of the exercise, when things were getting really complicated, Chris smiled and said “We knew this was going to be interesting!”

Well, yes, interesting as in the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!”

Among the “interesting” questions were a number encountered early on, under headings two and three. I found them to be very invasively intimate – the sort of thing one might expect on a sex offender treatment programme (SOTP). I politely declined to answer the most intrusive ones. Being too uncooperative, though, could result in a raised risk profile, potentially leading to more monitoring visits: maybe every month instead of quarterly.

There is much that I could say about all the questions, as may be imagined, and my answers to them at the time; but to cut a long story short I decided after the interview that a written follow-up would be necessary on my part. It came to over 5,000 words. On the matter of note-taking, I wrote:

“If the very clever leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition can forget the national deficit when speaking without notes for an hour or so, I don’t think it is too insulting to suggest that officers not making notes could forget important points in a long ‘speech’ of mine!”

Readers outside the UK cannot be expected to remember this reference to Labour party leader Mr Ed Miliband’s party conference speech last year, but I am sure everyone will get the gist.

In my written answer, things begin to get really dangerous for me not on the questions relating to sexual feelings and behaviour but – and this may come as a surprise to those who know me as a rather mild sort of chap – in the section on “Hostile orientation”. Chris and Mike, bless them, are perfectly well aware that I bear no grudge against them personally, or against the police force. I would much prefer to live in a country with effective law enforcement than in some hellhole of a failed state where your only “protection” comes from terrifying militias toting Kalashnikovs. It’s just that I would like our sex laws (and a good few others, actually) to be a bit more sensible!

I’d like to see more sensible training for the police, too. As the courses they are required to attend become steadily more focused on ideologically based diagnostic tools (albeit with real statistical analysis mixed in, so that everyone is blinded by science), the less scope officers have for the exercise of their common sense and experienced judgement. They find themselves obliged to ask set questions and then rate the answers in ways that accord with the prevailing dogma. Yes, this way of doing things reliably predicts behaviour on average, across large groups, but not in individual cases, especially when the individual concerned has been investigated and prosecuted for purely political reasons, as in my case.

The “hostility” questions furnish striking examples. I was asked, for instance, who I blame for my offences. The politically correct answer, of course, was myself: I take full responsibility. This is in fact what I said to Chris and Mike, albeit with complex caveats and qualifications that I feared might not be accurately represented in their later write-up and formal evaluation. So I wrote as follows, in order to clarify the position, and hence also, no doubt, as an unavoidable by-product, giving excellent reasons why I should be hanged! I wrote:

“… in the case of my first two convictions I was targeted essentially for reasons of profit and politics that owed nothing whatever to child protection. Misled by those convictions into supposing I was engaged in further conspiracies, which upon investigation proved to be utterly chimerical, I was then under close undercover surveillance for three years with no criminal behaviour disclosed. Desperate to ensure this resource-heavy operation would not end in total failure, the unit in question decided to set me up for what was a wholly police-generated offence [leading to a third conviction]. It would never have happened without their action as agents provocateurs

“Particular individuals I would blame are Rupert Murdoch, Sir Michael Havers and ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mazher Mahmood. I would never have been targeted for investigation and prosecution for the first offence, ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’, were it not for the legitimate activism (especially lobbying parliament for law reform) conducted by the Paedophile Information Exchange, which I chaired. This was classically a trumped-up charge. Central to this was a campaign by the News of the World, owned at that time, and until its recent closure following exposure of its own criminal activities, by Mr Murdoch. Also important was political intervention by Sir Michael Havers, the Attorney General of the day – a politician who overruled the DPP, who had not wanted to bring a ‘public morals’ prosecution.”

As for the perfidious role played by tabloid sleazeball Mazher Mahmood, I also put the police in the picture about this: no need to reprise the story here as I blogged about it last year in When Heretic TOC met the Fake Sheikh.

Further reasons to hang me could surely be found in the way in which my letter addressed the more personally intrusive aspects of the questioning. As indicated above, I declined to answer at one point. I wrote:

“What might be an appropriate question in the context of voluntary attendance on a SOTP while serving a prison sentence, or on probation, is not necessarily acceptable in the case of someone who has served their time. Being on the register is in theory not meant to be a punishment, but every incremental step taken in the direction of intrusive monitoring takes it in that direction. I would draw your attention in this regard to a Home Office Review of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 which discusses the registration requirement in the light of human rights issues and concludes that ‘were the registration requirement to become more onerous, there could come a point at which the Act could no longer be seen as an administrative requirement.’ ”

I now find myself wondering whether that point has been reached and whether I should consider making a legal issue of it under the Human Rights Act. Not that I would necessarily succeed. And he who rises in rebellion but fails to carry the day will surely end up on the gallows!

FOOTNOTE:

According to the pilot project report, “The ARMS manual contains a fourth ‘priority category’ (in addition to high, medium and low priority for action) – ‘unable to rate’ or ‘not applicable’…” I would just add that this manual does not currently appear to be publicly available; nor am I able to say how much it has been modified following response to the report.

Chemical castration and B4U-ACT: a challenge

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A few days ago a Briton living in the US was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison before being deported back to the UK, after plotting to kidnap, rape, kill and eat children. Authorities last year found a dungeon, homemade child-sized coffin, a child-sized cage with exterior locks, butchering kit and torture tools at the Massachusetts home of Geoffrey Portway, who had engaged in online discussions with others about a mutual interest in abducting and murdering children.

Castration tools were among the equipment found. In view of that grisly detail, there are some who might feel castration would be poetically appropriate as a precondition of Portway being considered for parole. Personally, I would prefer he were never released. His plans went far beyond S/M fantasy: even surgical castration – as opposed to the reversible chemical sort – would leave the more grotesque aspects of his criminal motivation untouched.

There are many other cases, though, in which offenders who have sexually assaulted children in a coercive or forceful way, or even those who have not so offended but have good grounds for fearing they are in imminent danger of doing so, could be considered appropriate candidates for treatment aimed at eliminating or greatly reducing their sex drive. B4U-ACT was castigated by a commentator here at Heretic TOC recently for failing to distance itself from such treatment. This was Jeff, who asked how could it be right for such an organisation to promote a treatment that would inevitably be harmful to a MAP’s mental health when it had been set up to improve standards of mental health provision?

Decca Aitkenhead, writing in the Guardian, visited some of the relevant issues in an informative and thoughtful article last year which makes a useful starting point for me to take the matter a bit further. She introduced her piece through the story of “Barry” (not the Barry who was responding here to Jeff!), who was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for murdering a random stranger who had refused him a light for his cigarette. He had never been convicted as a sex offender but was put on a sex offender treatment programme (SOTP) in prison. This was because he committed an offence of common assault after being let out on licence: he had lured a girl behind some bushes and the assault occurred following a sexual advance, when she tried to escape. During the course of the SOTP he admitted to being a serial voyeur in constant danger of attacking young females.

So when a prison doctor offered him a pill that might take away his sex drive, “I didn’t think twice,” he reportedly said. “I jumped at it. And I haven’t looked back.”

For patients with obsessive sexual fantasies, Aitkenhead continues, antidepressants from the family of SSRIs that includes Prozac, often prescribed to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, can help them control their sexual thoughts. The second and more radical approach is an anti-androgen drug, such as leuprorelin, which reduces testosterone levels and makes the patient impotent. Research from Scandinavia, she writes, has reported a drop in reoffending rates from 40% to between zero and 5%. Barry was among those who advanced beyond SSRIs to anti-androgen treatment – which one would have thought would stand him in good stead with the Parole Board in order to secure a further release from prison. Herein, though, lies a tale to which I will return.

For the moment, let’s just review Barry’s situation as reported so far. He wants to be free; he does not wish to harm anyone (unlike Geoffrey Portway); he professes to be happy with the treatment, which he feels is a success; I imagine his supervisors on the SOTP feel he has made progress, judging by his attitude as it comes across in what he reportedly told Aitkenhead. So, if he can go back into society with a good prospect of making a success of it, what’s not to like?

Let us now turn to a very specific objection raised by Jeff: how could something as drastic as chemically blasting a man’s sex drive away (with side effects including growing breasts that may need to be surgically removed) be considered a voluntary treatment, as is usually claimed? In prison, especially, if castration appears to be the only way of getting released, it is surely a totally coerced choice, isn’t it, and therefore ethically dubious?

This is where I am going to bring in Mike Bailey. As I said in a previous comment, Prof. J. Michael Bailey once wrote a paper in favour of castration but more recently declared that “persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of pedophilic relationships does not yet exist”. These two positions at first blush may seem poles apart, as though Bailey’s views must have changed very radically. But it is not necessarily so. Among several possible interpretations of his position, he may believe that non-coerced adult-child sexual contacts are intrinsically harmless, and that castration, whether castration “lite” (chemical/reversible) or the real thing (surgical removal of the testes) cannot be justified in such cases, and maybe not prison sentences either, or indeed any kind of punishment. My point here is not to pin down Bailey’s position exactly but just to show that even belief in such a drastic treatment as surgical castration does not necessarily make the holder of such a belief an ogre of anti-sexuality and illiberal dogma. Indeed, I think Bailey’s unusual combination of views indicates that he is a thoughtful guy who is not afraid to go where evidence and logic take him, even when that makes him look a complete bastard to conservatives and liberals of the more emotional, knee-jerk, type for totally opposite reasons.

What more specifically is of interest to us here is the fact that his paper on castration, co-written with fellow psychologist Aaron Greenberg, addresses Jeff’s point about coerced “consent” to castration in detail and, I would say, with considerable care in around 1,250 words which I have posted online here.

In a nutshell, their argument goes something like this. Everything we do in life involves weighing up alternatives, and we are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Whether a particular choice offered in the penal system is coerced to an improper degree is something that might possibly be defined [TOC: constitutional or human rights grounds come to mind] but the criteria would probably be very hard to agree upon. Instead of puzzling over what is or is not voluntary, a more productive approach is instead to ask simply whether it is morally acceptable to put the offender in the position of being subjected to one of the alternatives offered. If the prison sentence is fair [TOC: but at Heretic-TOC many of us believe sentences in this field are often appallingly unfair], why would a less disagreeable alternative chosen by the prisoner not be fair? If the prison sentence is unfair, that is a different issue. Far from decreasing the offender’s freedom, all adding castration (or anything else) as an option does is increase his freedom. If he prefers the full prison sentence to castration, he will refuse castration and will be in exactly the same position as if it were never offered. His position with the castration alternative will be better than or the same as, but never worse than, his position without the alternative. In addition, it is by no means clear that castration is a morally unfair punishment for certain sex crimes, even if imposed without the offender’s consent: in the case of very serious crimes, a punishment that may greatly reduce the chance of recidivism seems particularly appropriate.

So far as it goes, I think the reasoning here is quite strong (please point out flaws I have missed) but rather limited in the scope of its moral vision. It seems to me that true castration, like capital punishment, is one of those extreme ways of dealing with offenders that not only violates fundamental human rights but which also endorses violence: these punishments make the state look as vicious as the offender, or worse, and underpin, rather than undermine, a social climate in which violence is seen as a solution rather than a problem.

The point about the effectiveness of surgical castration in stopping further offences, is worth dwelling upon. Elsewhere in their paper, Bailey and Greenberg quote a 1970s German study, by Wille and Beier, indicating a very impressive postoperative recidivism rate of only 3%, whereas a comparison group of uncastrated offenders reoffended at a rate of 46% over 11 years. However, the also extremely good results reported above from Swedish research in relation to chemical castration do not appear to find support in the latest major study of the effectiveness of all types of sex offender treatment (or possibly all types in the UK: surgical castration does not seem to have been covered) published as recently as last month in the British Medical Journal by Långström et al. Well over a thousand studies were considered in this systematic review of the literature.

Embarrassingly for science, none of them were deemed good enough to demonstrate that any particular treatment is truly effective, including chemical castration. The paper notes: “The lack of credible studies of antiandrogen drugs is particularly striking given the prominence of ‘chemical castration’ in public debates concerning the treatment of known perpetrators.”

In that case, we might think, the ethical arguments reviewed above become redundant. What possible justification can there be for B4U-ACT, or anyone else, to promote a treatment that could be held to violate human rights, and which certainly has the humiliating and degrading (for a man) side effect of breast enlargement, if it may well be utterly ineffective? Isn’t it all a bit of a sham?

In practice, it is often a sham in other ways, too. Prisoners sometimes undergo castration on the basis of false hopes, as Bailey and Greenberg’s paper shows in the case of an offender called Jeffrey Morse in America. A particularly egregious injustice occurred in that case because Morse ended up being surgically, and hence irreversibly, castrated but then found himself given an increase over the expected sentence (from 25 years to 26), not a reduction.

There are false hopes and pervasive bad faith in the British penal system too. As Aitkenhead reveals, prisoners are in effect being led up the garden path: they are encouraged to undergo chemical interventions in the belief that their cooperation with suggested treatments will help secure their release. What they are not told, it seems, is that under existing rules the Parole Board is not even allowed to know whether prisoners have been on a course of SSRIs or had chemical castration! It is thus impossible for treatment to help secure their release but they are left with totally the opposite impression. This strikes me as utterly unjust and even fraudulent.

So where does all this leave us? Conscious of the rather heated clash in Heretic-TOC’s comment space over B4U-ACT’s apparently pro-chemical castration (in certain circumstances) stance, I have tried to approach the issues in a balanced and reflective way. It was not always so. As a young man, back in the 1970s, I delivered a fiery speech against chemical castration at a conference of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty). It was later written up as an article in Gay Left after being attacked by Patricia Hewitt, who was later a cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government. Reading that article again online, for the first time in over thirty years, I must ruefully note that it achieved nothing: chemical castration is still with us. Hewitt scoffed at my rather amateurish efforts – factual research by the unfunded non-professional was much tougher in the pre-internet era – and I now find my moral certainty at the time more than a touch simplistic.

The whole of the Gay Left issue in question is online as a PDF, and there is a Table of Contents. I might just mention in passing that the same issue includes a discussion of paedophilia by the Gay Left Collective, to which I replied in the following issue. Those who are interested in the changing attitude of the gay movement over time towards paedophilia might thus find these particular issues of Gay Left to be revealing. One of the leading lights of Gay Left was Jeff Weeks, then a radical young historian but sadly now – as I remarked in Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence  – a rather bland and boringly PC emeritus professor.

What has not changed much, though, after all this time, is my opinion of chemical castration. Jeff (not Jeff Weeks!) is basically right, I think: chemical castration is an extreme form of intervention which is very hard to justify, especially as its efficacy is still in doubt after so many years. But that does not mean B4U-ACT is in some sort of conspiracy with the authorities or is anti-sexual.

This story related by Barry is worth recalling:

 …one young man … recently came to us seeking help. He had been on probation after he was released from prison for sexually assaulting boys, and during that time the state paid for him to receive anti-androgen medication. Now that probation was ending, he could not afford to continue the treatment and he was desperately asking for help to continue as he felt very strong urges to go out and assault another boy… What in actuality would be punitive is the 10- or 20- (or more) year sentence the MAP could receive if he were to act out on his urges. That would also certainly be more deleterious to the mental health of a MAP than a reversible course of medication…

These are strong points. It is not easy to know the right course to take when faced with responsibility for a case like this, which may be about self-coercion as a result of state brain-washing but is a very different situation to the hard choices faced by MAPs in prison or still under tight control during probation. If Jeff or anyone else can put forward a coherent and compelling policy for an organisation such as B4U-ACT in these circumstances, Heretic TOC would be pleased to hear it. Indeed, this blog would be interested to hear from B4U-ACT itself, in either its American or British manifestations.

MAIN REFERENCES

Aitkenhead, D., Chemical castration: the soft option? The Guardian, Friday 18 January 2013

Bailey, J.M. & Greenberg, A.S., “The science and ethics of castration: Lessons from the Morse case”, Northwestern University Law Review. 1998;92(4):1225-1245.

Långström, N. et al., Preventing sexual abusers of children from reoffending: systematic review of medical and psychological interventions, BMJ 2013;347:f4630 (9 August 2013)

Wille, R. & Beier, K.M., Castration in Germany, Annals of Sex Research 2, 105-9 (1989)

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