Should we castrate sex offenders?

Representative Hurst of Alabama introduced a bill to castrate sex offenders. Many of us agree. We all hate sex offenders. We’re happy to execute them, but the Supreme Court said we couldn’t. Legislation calling for their castration gets introduced regularly, constantly with thunderous cheers.

The only thing we don’t like doing with sex offenders is convicting them.

Our attitude to those who sexually abuse children makes sense in broad strokes. After all, we’ve all heard a survivor talk about being sexually abused as a child on TV. It is one of the ten Adverse Childhood Experiences that permanently harm children’s health and tarnish their futures.

We expect America to be a country where accusations of child sexual abuse are dealt with by highly trained professionals who stop at nothing to convict the guilty. We expect everyone to understand the complex nature of the abuse, its victims, and its perpetrators. And we don’t expect to see unnecessary hurdles in the conviction process.

But as much as we don’t like sex offenders, we also don’t like convicting them. We hate them so much. We can’t believe people we know could do such a thing. We think sex offenders live in a parallel universe, occasionally sneaking into our neighborhoods to molest our kids without any adults’ knowledge.

The idea that we all can like, trust and even love a sex offender is insulting, horrifying, and hard to digest.

When someone we like, trust, or love is accused of sexually abusing a child, we can either believe the child is wrong or we are. That’s a hard choice. Research shows that when children disclose sexual abuse, they usually don’t receive a protective response from the person they tell, most often the child’s mother. When children disclose, we don’t believe them. When adults disclose, we tend not to think of them kindly, and Statutes of Limitations on the crime generally keep them out of court.  And when a child’s mother believes their father sexually abused them, and the mother tries to protect them, the family court systems often stymie those efforts.

If a child you care about says they were sexually abused, you imagine you’d carry that child onto your white horse, and rush them to the nearest police station, and ensure they are safe.

Realistically, the person this child will name as their abuser is your spouse, parent, child, best friend, or someone else you truly love and trust.

A lot of things will factor into your decision to call the authorities. One of them is what you believe will happen to the alleged abuser if they are guilty. If you believe this person you care about will spend time behind bars but then be able to rebuild their life, you’re a lot more likely to contact the authorities than if you believe they face mutilation or death.

And you won’t be the only one worried about such things. Abusers are often the most important person in their victims’ lives. Victims rarely want to hurt their abuser and often fear separation from them. Initially, children often feel guilty for “causing” their abuser’s arrest.

When the topic of the death penalty for sex offenders came before the supreme court, subject matter experts unanimously said it was a bad idea. The consensus was that it provides no real deterrent, but it makes the victim’s family much less likely to cooperate.

As satisfying as a bill to castrate sex offenders may be for Representative Hurst, there are other things legislators can do to keep kids safe. For starters, he can introduce legislation eliminating the Statute of Limitations on child sexual abuse in Alabama. Alabama is currently considered one of the best states for sex offenders, based on its unenforceable laws. He can introduce the Safe Child Act, which will protect children in family court. He can take action to prevent ACEs in his community.

 Should we castrate sex offenders?

Another positive, significant thing he can do is ensure adults in Alabama are educated about child sexual abuse. Educating adults about child sexual abuse and normalizing discussion about it helps people realize their child can be abused in their neighborhood by their family or friends. It also teaches them how to protect their children and how to recognize unhealthy relationships and situations.

Education may not be as satisfying as castration, but it’s likely actually to protect kids.

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Melanie Blow

Melanie Blow

Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign

A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.

Melanie has an ACE score of 6.

Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.