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Sex offenders may face chemical castration

March 20, 1997
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Sexual offenders could be forced to take drugs to lower their sex drives to get parole under a bill before a House committee.

Under the measure, first time sexual offenders whose victims are under 13 years old could undergo the treatment at the discretion of the sentencing court.

The treatment, which involves regular intake of a drug to lower the sex drive, would be mandated for second-time offenders whose victims are under 13 and for all third-time offenders.

In a hearing before the House Criminal Law Committee Wednesday, Bill Sponsor David Broach, R-Arnold, argued that the bill is a needed protection from "monsters of society."

"They should be locked up and put away forever," Broach said. "But if they are on parole, we need to be protected."

A witness who testified before the committee in favor of the bill explained how her personal experience shaped her view.

"Beth" told the committee how, as a teenager, she had been kidnapped and raped by a repeat sexual offender. She asked that her actual identity not be disclosed because she feared that her attacker might find her and exact revenge for the prison sentence he has since completed.

"I feel this would not have happened to me if the man had been on this medication," she said, her hands shaking and voice quivering.

"He had taken away my laughter, security and trust," Beth said. She urged the legislators to pass the measure so that it could spare even one person from suffering.

But an ACLU lobbyist who said she was beaten and raped by two men when she was 12 years old spoke against the bill.

Marsha Richeson, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, argued that although she has no sympathy for sexual offenders, she did not think the measure would be effective.

Richeson explained that the studies which indicated low recidivism rates after chemical castration also involved other therapies as well.

"How much more horrible to let these people out of prison, thinking they're safe," Richeson said.

Additionally, the measure would not stand up to Constitutional scrutiny Richeson said. Chemical castration would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and invasion of privacy which includes the right to bodily integrity, Richeson said.

The Northern California affiliate of the ACLU is preparing a challenge to the California law, the first chemical castration legislation in the country which was approved last September.

Missouri is one of at least a dozen states considering legislation to impose chemical castration on sexual offenders.

But such measures, though well-intentioned, may not be effective, according to Dr. Bruce Harry, associate professor of general psychiatry at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine.

Harry said that some criminal sexual behaviors cannot simply be controlled through hormone treatment.

"I don't know that it is as effective as everybody would like," he said. "I wish it were that simple."