Castration of Sex Offenders Essay

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A sex offender is a person who commits sexual acts that are considered deviant by society and are determined to be illegal. These acts may be done by physically assaulting another, such as rape or child molestation, or in the case of child pornography, by violating the rights of others. In the late 20th century, sentencing laws were proposed to “fix” the problem of sex offenders. One such approach was mandating chemical castration for certain types of sex offenders. Ethical issues surrounding the castration of sex offenders include the right of the offender to refuse medical treatment and the doubtful efficacy of the procedure in preventing recidivism.

Within psychology, sex offenders are generally diagnosed with paraphilia. This diagnosis is defined as a disorder wherein sexual arousal and gratification relate to fantasizing about and engaging in sexual activities considered to be abnormal by society. Additional diagnoses may be present in the offender that might affect their behavior and thought process, resulting in acting out sexually; such disorders include, but are not limited to, antisocial personality disorder, substance use, mood disorders, or impulse control disorders. Sex offenders generally become involved with the legal system and may be incarcerated or be supervised on probation or parole.

Evidence suggests that many sex offenders respond positively to cognitive-behaviorally based therapeutic treatment. This therapy is an approach that works to alter the thought process and resulting behaviors of an individual. Other forms of treatment include medical management, such as castration. Castration can be performed in two forms. Surgical sterilization, which is the removal of the testes resulting in lower levels of testosterone throughout the body, is a permanent state. Chemical therapy involves regular injections or oral administration of a synthetic hormone to decrease the offender’s testosterone levels; levels return to normal after cessation of treatment, generally. Similar to other medications, the effectiveness of the hormone differs from recipient to recipient.

Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) commonly known as Depo-Provera, is the most regularly used drug for chemical castration in the United States. Europe and Canada utilize a substance called cyproterone acetate (CPA). While MPA is a common form of female contraception, CPA is most often used in the treatment of prostate cancer. These drugs decrease the hormonal levels of testosterone in the body, which affects the body’s ability to produce semen, produces a physical response, and may decrease the psychological aspects of arousal in some patients.

Best practice would be for individuals undergoing chemical castration to also participate in therapeutic counseling in order to approach the issues at the root of their behavior from both a physiological and psychological perspective. Several countries utilize chemical castration as an approach to treating sex offenders, among them Australia, Argentina, Israel, Poland, and Russia.

Surgical castration was once a common practice in the United States for severely mentally ill patients and some convicted individuals. In the early 19th century, scientists discovered connections between the hormonal secretions of the testes and ovaries, beginning the use of surgical castration as a therapeutic treatment for several mental health disorders. Researchers thought that what was being done was in the best interest of those affected. Such extreme methods have been discontinued; however, in some states a sex offender may voluntarily choose surgical castration to mitigate harsher sentencing such as prolonged confinement.

There are ethical and legal issues surrounding the rehabilitation of sex offenders; castration as a rehabilitation method raises many ethics questions. In the late 20th century, many states reacted to public outcry by creating laws that would be seen as tougher approaches to fixing the problem of sex offenders. One such approach was applying castration (chemical) as a mandatory punishment for sex offenders who violated certain laws. This form of castration has most often been related to those individuals whose crimes involved children.

Offenders may be mandated as a condition of their release to undergo chemical castration. This form of castration has been shown to lower the testosterone levels, thereby decreasing the sexual urges and arousal of the person. Chemical castration may be mandated for both male and female offenders. There is, however, little research and validated evidence that chemically castrating a female would affect her sexual drives and thus decrease the probability of reoffending.

There are two main views regarding the ethical and legal considerations to be reviewed when evaluating the development of castration laws. Castration is considered by some to be cruel and unusual punishment, and its use as part of a criminal penalty may be a violation of the rights to refuse medical treatment and to procreate, both considered to be basic human rights. The assertion that castrating a sex offender is cruel and unusual punishment may stem from the view that it is a mutilation of the person as well as a forced alteration of a part of a person’s identity. However, as there are ethical requirements in both the medical and psychological communities that require a demonstration of understanding and consent to treatment, the individual does have a choice to refuse this course. As this also speaks to the right to refuse treatment, the offender should have full information of what the treatment is, what possible side effects may occur, and the reasoning behind this course of action.

Castration is also seen as being an attack on the right to procreate for both surgical sterilization and chemical castration. While there have been decisions that led to case law stating that the government did not have the ability to take away the right to choose to procreate, there are also stipulations that show that the right is not absolute. On the other side of the argument, chemical castration is not absolute either. Chemical castration is not a permanent response to the issue, but a temporary fix that works only for the duration of application. Thus, there is no loss of the right to procreate.

To examine the role of castration in the sentencing of sex offenders, it is crucial to consider that there may be an alternative incarceration and/or civil commitment. With chemical castration the individual remains under supervision and is mandated to treatment; however, the offender is able to continue his or her life in society. The individual has to consent to this treatment; the offender makes their own decision regarding incarceration versus medical management. Chemical castration is not a permanent alteration.

A factor to consider with all castration is that unless the offender wants to change his or her behavior, this method of treatment has no effect on recidivism. The arousal at the heart of sexual offending is psychological, not necessarily physical, and though there may be some decrease in testosterone levels, the offender is still capable of acting on their urges.


  1. Lee, Joo Yong and Kang Su Cho. “Chemical Castration for Sexual Offenders: Physicians’ Views.” Journal of Korean Medical Science, v.28/2 (February 2013).
  2. (Accessed August 2013).
  3. Norman-Eady, Sandra. “Castration of Sex Offenders.” OLR Research Report, 2006. (Accessed August 2013).
  4. Scott, C. L. and T. Holmberg. “Castration of Sex Offenders: Prisoners’ Rights Versus Public Safety.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law, v.31/4 (2003). (Accessed August 2013).

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