|Rep. Steve Hurst|
By DEBORAH HASTINGS
Alabama legislator Steve Hurst wants to force pedophiles to be physically castrated, a drastic measure that goes farther than any other state and ignites fierce arguments with no winning side. The bill would also make molesters pay for the procedure.
He was just a little boy when he first molested a child.
At age 7 he tried to rape his 3-year-old cousin by luring her into a closet.
He knew he was doing something awful and bad, but his only deterrence, he said, was his ignorance of female anatomy.
_____, now 52, has said he molested more than 240 children in a long, dark criminal career that could only be stopped, he told Texas authorities, by having his testes cut out.
To believe him and his lawyer is to accept that castration — whether surgical or chemical — keeps serial pedophiles from ruining more young lives.
To neuter or not to neuter is one of the most fierce questions in criminal justice systems around the globe.
Now comes an Alabama state legislator, with a newly proposed law that has reignited fiery rhetoric on all sides, and goes farther than any other castration laws currently observed in at least nine U.S. states.
Under the bill from Rep. Steve Hurst, which will be debated next year, convicted molesters older than age 21 whose victims were younger than 12 would be forced to undergo surgical castration at their own expense.
"I know I have people that say that this is inhumane," Hurst said earlier this month, when he resubmitted the bill he pushed last year but failed to get passed.
"What is inhumane is to molest a child, especially an infant,” said the Republican lawmaker. “That's inhumane."
Paul Looney, the Texas criminal defense lawyer for _____, told the Daily News there’s no doubt in his mind that castration can be humane for both the perpetrator and society. And it works, according to his experience.
“I can tell you absolutely that it helps every male with impulse control," said Looney, who has represented about eight men who voluntarily chose surgical castration.
None of them have re-entered the legal system, he said, because castration lowers both sexual impulses and hostile behavior. And his former clients have been able to resist their lessened drives.
“There’s no way I would recommend it as a mandatory measurement. There’s an element of beastiality to it,” Looney said.
“But if it works, and if it gives them a way out of attacking another victim, then that’s a home run.”
_____’s request to be physically castrated prompted Texas in 1997 to become the first state to allow it.
Why did he ask for such a drastic measure?
“He didn’t believe that chemical castration would work for him,” Looney said. “It works only for as long as you take the drugs, and he didn’t believe he would have the will to keep up with it.”
_____ declined to accept a phone call placed by The News to his Texas work-release quarters in the Bexar County Jail.
Castration is viewed as cruel and unusual punishment by the ACLU and Amnesty International, among other groups. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that child molesters could not be executed if they did not commit murder during their lewd acts.
Some medical studies show lower recidivism rates for castrated criminals versus those who didn’t receive the procedures.
Studies in Germany have shown about 3% of castrated offenders repeated their crimes. For those who didn’t undergo castration, the figure ranged from 46 percent to 75 percent.
Louisiana defense attorney Nathan Fisher said he suggested that his client _____, an aging serial molester, undergo surgery to remove his testes in 2011.
Then 78, _____ was serving a 27-year sentence handed down in 1999 for molesting three girls.
In exchange for having himself castrated, _____ was granted parole. Fisher said the dire decision was driven by his client’s commitment to changing his ways so he could spend the last years of his life with his relatives.
“I just had to do something. I had to think outside the box,” Fisher told The News.
Otherwise, Fisher said, _____ would have died in jail. The lawyer said he hasn't talked to his former client in years, but knows that he hasn't been accused of molesting children since his release.
Now 81, _____ lives in West Baton Rouge, La., under orders to register as a sex offender, according to public records. His last known telephone number is no longer in service.
In a series of laws passed over the past two decades, chemical castration may be required of repeat molesters in California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin.
Only Texas and Louisiana offer the option of cutting out the testes, where 95 percent of testosterone is produced.
California was the first to pass a castration law in 1996. It also requires continued chemical castration for molesters who have completed their prison sentences but are committed indefinitely to state mental hospitals because they are deemed to be a continued threat to the community.
In many cases, prosecutors don’t much care for granting parole to serial molesters, even if they've been castrated.
Yet curbing the malevolent predilections of predators with criminal histories is not as simple as prescribing medication or picking up a scalpel, many say.
In California, Orange County Deputy District Attorney Mike Carroll told The News that lowering testosterone levels is not a cure for pedophilia.
“You can use other body parts,” he said. “Fingers, mouths, etc. Castration may lower someone’s sex drive, but it doesn't lower their risk to offend.”
The Southern California prosecutors office has opposed releasing _____, a twice-convicted child molester who volunteered for surgical castration in 2003.
He obtained a court order for the surgery and paid for it himself. After serving sentences for molesting three girls and showing pornography to a boy, he was deemed a sexually violent predator by prosecutors and has been locked up in state mental hospitals since 2000.
Several requests for parole, based on his castration, have been denied.
There are no statistics on the number of men who have volunteered for surgical castration or been given chemical injections.
About 265,000 sex offenders are currently incarcerated in state prisons, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures. Some 750,000 are listed on sex offender registration lists.
But just like legal experts, medical professionals can’t agree on whether castrating child molesters within the criminal justice system is a good solution to a pernicious problem.
“There is a role for this in medical practices [with] consenting patients,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, now known as the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit, which specializes in treating pedophiles and others with sexual disorders including voyeurism and exhibitionism. A 1990s survey of 400 pedophiles who had received clinic treatment including chemical castration showed a recidivism rate of about 8 percent, he said.
“But to do this as punishment is absolutely inappropriate,” he told The News.
Lowering testosterone levels, which in turn lowers libidos, can benefit pedophiles, who by definition are driven by sexual urges toward children.
It wouldn't have much effect on psycopaths or “someone with no sense of moral responsibility — there’s no medicine in the world that is going to instill that in a person,” Berlin said.
Passing castration laws does not address the very real problem of how to treat child molesters in a humane way, he said.
“These seems to have become an issue among legislators who aren't medical experts,” Berlin said.
“What’s behind this is the ‘Let’s just castrate the bastards’ mentality,” he added. “And that doesn't work very well.”